If you live in one of the five states in our region that had a primary this week, I hope you voted. It’s the one way your voice can be heard in the political process.
But with the noise from the presidential campaigns, it’s easy to lose sight of things that are just as, if not more, important for farmers.
One of those is preparing for the next generation to take over.
A new report released Monday by American Farmland Trust shows a potentially dire situation for farm transitions in the Northeast and New England.
According to the nonprofit, nearly 30 percent of New England’s farmers are likely to exit farming in the next 10 to 20 years.
The yearlong analysis was based on U.S. Census of Agriculture data.
The report also states that 92 percent of New England’s 10,369 senior farmers don’t have a farm operator younger than 45 working with them.
“The 1.4 million acres they manage and $6.45 billion in land and agricultural infrastructure they own will change hands in one way or another,” said Cris Coffin, policy director for the group Land for Good, which directed the study.
“To keep this land and infrastructure in farming as it transitions, we will need better policy tools and increased support services to exiting and entering farmers,” Coffin said.
There are many challenges to farming. Land is expensive, there are lots of regulations to abide by, and the job doesn’t pay a lot of money.
And while passing down a farm to the next generation seems like a no-brainer, it’s not easy. A farmer has to have someone — children are usually the first option — who wants to take over the farm.
From there, it’s about planning and execution. Stories are common of the struggles families have had transitioning from one generation to the next, whether due to differences in opinion on the future of the farm or squabbles over dividing an estate.
Some governments, through farmland preservation and young farmer programs, are trying to come up with long-term solutions. Others are struggling to keep their farmland preservation goals alive.
In Howard County, Md., county officials are squabbling over how much land should be preserved to protect the Chesapeake Bay.
In New York state, wealthy landowners are buying up protected lands only to take the land out of production later.
At a time when people are more engaged than ever about where their food comes from, the reality is that many farms are in a precarious position due to slumping commodity and dairy prices.
Farmers and government officials should work together to strengthen farmland preservation so the next generation of farmers has a chance to succeed.