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Finding West Michigan's future farmers

8:16 PM, Jun 22, 2013   |    comments
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More young farmers needed to fill retiring farmers shoes

DORR, Mich. (WZZM) -- The world's population of 7.2 billion people is expected to grow by almost one billion within the next twelve years.

More people, requires more food, and the local farming community says they need the younger generation to help fulfill the need.

Future Farmers of America (FFA) may just be a school club to many. But it's a real term older farmers nearing retirement age take seriously. Nationwide, the USDA reports only five percent of principal farm operators are under 35 years old. So dozens took out the tractors Saturday in Door to raise awareness.

"If we don't have someone to take over this, I don't know who is going to feed the world," said Jeff Lenhart.

Lenhart owns a farm in Door. Dozens of farmers, young and old, filed into his land on the last leg of their 25 mile-long tractor parade. They visited communities in hopes of raising interest for Future Farmers of America.

Justin Berens of Wayland is one young member of FFA. "I want to stay with farming because it was my grandpa's farm," he said.

They also want to awareness for some startling facts:
USDA statistics show that more than a third of U.S farmers are 65 years old or older. Half of current farmers expect to retire in the next decade, and currently, only five percent of people running a farm operation are under 35-years-old.
"I'm sure it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better," said farmer Tom Green, who organized the tractor parade. His son, Alan, just graduated high school and plans to teach agra-science at the high school level after college.

Green says this because the short supply is hurting the food supply. USDA expects the growing world's population will require 70 percent more food by 2050.

Berens says field work is appealing to some classmates, but says he understands why his field -- hauling hay and feeding cattle -- may not interest others.

"It's dusty and dirty and hot," he said. "I say it's my lifestyle."

Other FFA students say though, it's also important to gather interest for the 300 other job opportunities in agriculture.
"You need engineers, you need chemical engineers, engineers to design the tractors," said Green.

Another big deterrent for younger farmers is cost. Small family farms are being taken over by big farm operations.





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