Back to the farm for young professionals

How you gonna keep ‘em off of the farm after they’ve been savaged by corporate America?

Seems like a small exodus has begun away from mega companies that treat employees like numbers and back to rural America, where folks can at least have a say in what they do and how they do it.

A recent AP article by Dinesh Ramde indicates that more young people, those in their 20s and 30s, are abandoning careers with large companies where they feel stifled and heading back to the farm. Some are going back; others are taking up the plow for the first time and are taking advantage of programs in ag colleges that train people how to farm.

The advantages would be obvious to anyone who ever lived and worked on a farm. Farmers, to a certain degree, can be their own bosses—set their own time schedules, decide what crops or livestock to produce, determine acreages to allot for vegetables, fruit trees or livestock.

They set up their own marketing programs. They can sell to local markets, set up their own sales facility, develop a pick-your-own enterprise or sell at local farmers’ markets. They also might opt to sell to larger companies that ship across country or export. A lot depends on location, enterprise size and capital.

They also know that living in the country can be a lot less hectic than making a stressful commute every morning and every evening through bumper-to-bumper traffic.

A lot of these agri-entrepreneurs are returning home, going back to farms and ranches they left after earning college degrees and trying out careers away from the farm. In some cases, those professions simply didn’t offer them the kind of lifestyles they had hoped for. For others, the failing economy may have made agriculture look a lot brighter.

Projections indicate that U.S. farmers had a good year, for the most part, in 2011. Too much rain in some places, way too little in others created hardships for many. And new farmers must be aware of those hardships.

Anyone who goes back to the farm or takes up farming for the first time, regardless of the size of the operation, must be aware that agriculture is not stress-free. Farmers face challenges other industries don’t consider. A hail storm late in the season can destroy a year’s work. A late spring freeze can kill newly emerged plants, fruit tree blossoms or newborn livestock.

Prices go down; production costs rise; consumer preferences change. The work is hard and the outcome is often uncertain. Start-up costs can be extremely high, especially in areas close to cities, where the demand for local produce will be the greatest.

I have a friend in South Carolina, my next-door neighbor when I was growing up—if 200 yards can be considered next door. Several years ago he switched out a landscaping business to greenhouse vegetable production. He raises hydroponic tomatoes in the winter. They are quite good. He also grows greens, squash, beans, cucumbers and other vegetables and sells from a store on his property and also at local farmers markets and nearby grocery stores. He seems to be doing well, and he’s definitely doing what he wants to do.

I try to go by and see what new products he has when I go visit my mother. He usually forces me to take home a handful of whatever is in season.

Small farms, local grown produce and similar enterprises might not be the key to feeding the growing world population, but they make a significant contribution. And folks who understand the vagaries of agriculture and consumer tastes may earn good livings from these enterprises.

It’s also refreshing to consider that the exodus back to agriculture has the potential to bring some young blood back to the farm—no small consideration when most U.S. farmers are more than 55 years old.

Welcome to the country.

TAGS: Management
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