PRINCETON — The 2012 Census of Agriculture is revealing new trends in farming.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the final Census data and reported record sales moderated by rising expenses; agriculture becoming increasingly diverse; and farming and marketing practices changing.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack released a statement with the data, saying it illustrates the power of USDA efforts to grow the economy and strengthen infrastructure in rural America.
“The Census shows the potential for continued growth in the bioeconomy, organics and local and regional food systems. USDA will continue to focus on innovative, creative policies that give farmers, ranchers and entrepreneurs the tools they need to attract a bright and diverse body of talent to rural America.”
An interesting highlight from the Census data shows that 22 percent of all farmers were beginning farmers in 2012, which means one out of every five farmers operated a farm for less than 10 years.
Young, beginning principal operators who reported their primary occupation as farming increased from 36,396 to 40,499 between 2007 and 2012. That’s an 11.3 percent increase in the number of young people selecting agriculture as a full-time job.
Evan Hultine, a fourth-generation farmer from Princeton, talked about the reasons and opportunities that have attracted more youth to the agriculture field.
Hultine represents just one of the many young farmers in the Bureau County area. He serves as District 2 Director of the Bureau County Farm Board and also represents District 4 on the Illinois Farm Bureau Young Leader Committee.
According to Hultine, one factor behind what’s attracting the younger generation is the growing trend of the local food movement.
“Looking at the movement, a big driving force is people are now getting more comfortable in wanting to know where their food comes from and wanting to know the person who raises the food,” he said. “There’s more and more people, even the suburban younger generation, who are more interested in planting two or three acres and becoming more familiar with local food production.”
Another big factor can be linked to what Hultine calls the “Big Ag Boom.” He said in the last few years, profits in farming have dramatically increased, and it has allowed family farms to be more competitive and expand their operations.
“This has allowed opportunities to bring kids back to the farm, when that opportunity wasn’t there five to eight years ago,” he said.
What’s driving those profits? According to Hultine, it comes from a variety of things — change in weather climate, pointing out the 2012 drought; more exports to China; and the demand for ethanol production.
“The per-acre profitability has really increased in the last few years. Instead of going by the normal cash flow, farmers have more income, which allows for their kids to come home and help build the farm,” he said.
Hultine said he grew up and watched his dad farm in the ‘80s when things weren’t as profitable in the farming business. His dad was forced to work a full-time job on top of keeping up with the farm operation.
Hultine said he grew up knowing he wanted to keep the family farm going. He went to school at the University of Illinois and earned a bachelor’s degree in horticulture. He said the plan was to go to school and come back business-ready to take over the operation when his dad was ready to retire.
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