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Young farmers gaining ground

By Ty Higgins

One of the most popular statistics thrown around about agriculture is that the average age of the American farmer is 58. Although this figure is causing some anxiety in the industry, my journeys throughout the 2018 planting season has me focusing on another stat. After hopping into tractor cabs all over the state, I realized that my random stops had me, a 40-year-old, feeling a little older than I normally do on a given day of hanging out with producers.

After riding along with Roger Tobias (25), Reggie Rose (26) and Owen Niese (23) it would be hard to convince me that only 2% of established farmers in America are less than 35 years of age. Equally as difficult would be to convince these young farmers that there is no future for them in agriculture.

“The past 3 to 4 years we have really taken off in the size of the operation,” said Tobias, who farms in Pickaway, Madison, Richland and Ashland Counties. “A lot of that actually has a lot to do with the low commodity markets and other farmers deciding to get out of farming at the same time we were able to be competitive.”

Reggie Rose and his family have a dairy operation in Mercer County and despite the long-term price dip that milk has seen, Rose is looking for ways to be optimistic and flexible to continue to do what he loves.

“Things will come around. I compare what is happening now in our industry to what happens in chickens and hogs when the little guys were pushed out,” Rose said. “Dairy has come to that faster than I ever thought but we’re hanging in there so I guess someday if we have to milk a thousand cows or just raise heifer for another thousand cow operation that will work too.”

As for Niese, when he isn’t planting corn or soybeans he and his Dad are planting tile, which is keeping them plenty busy these days in Crawford County.

One of my Cab Cam stops what not like the others when I found Al Walton planting corn for what would be his last time in the Hardin County field.

“I started farming in 1972 after I got out of high school, so I have been at this for a little while,” Walton said. “After harvest the plan is to retire and turn all of my rented ground over to a family that has some ground but has some room to grow. Hopefully they can take this opportunity to grow their farm for years to come.”

That amazing windfall of acres will be more than a shot in the arm for Lee Turner, who is a 23-year-old that is part of the family that Walton will be transferring ground to. The amount of acres Turner will have next year will quadruple what he runs in 2018. This fearless farmer is ready for what most would see as a daunting challenge.

“It is both nerve-wracking and exciting at the same time,” Turner said. “It’s going to take more equipment and more manpower for sure and it will be a challenge but we are certainly looking forward to it.”

It has been a thrill to get to know these young guns of Ohio agriculture over the past month and I can’t wait to see what they are able to do for years to come. Take it from me, the state’s #1 industry is in good hands.

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