“Now they’re using more corn for ethanol,” said Mr. Baez, a tall and gregarious fellow, in between dispensing lottery tickets to a steady flow of customers trying their luck at Take 5 and Mega Millions. “When the corn is more expensive, it’s more expensive to feed the cows. More expensive cows, more expensive milk. And ice cream.”
U.S. farmers are getting old. The national average has climbed to 55.3 years as of the last agricultural census in 2002 (the 2007 census is currently underway), and the trend is ever upward... the sirens are clanging not only because farmers are getting older (in fact, more than a quarter of U.S. farmers are older than 65), but because young farmers are getting scarcer. A mere 5.8% of farmers are now under 35, compared to 16% in 1982.
...There are some signs that the next generation of U.S. farmers may be gravitating more towards sustainable agriculture, with 18% of organic farmers under the age of 35, compared to 5.8% in conventional agriculture. In Oregon, where we are faced with the unnerving prospect of 25% of our farmers retiring within the next decade, numbers like these help to remind us that opportunity always attends change.
...It’s possible that these new farmer programs and market forces might be related to a unique and beautiful little statistic here at home: Oregon, bucking the national trend, grew 58 new farms between 1997 and 2002, from 39,975 to 40,033. Though it’s a humble figure and causality is difficult to tease out, it’s hard to repress hope in the presence of a counter-current number like that.
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