In Feb. 21 IssueBy Derek AaronRussell County News Editor
Russell County’s farmers are growing older and agriculture officials worry a lack in new generation farmers won’t be there to take their place once they retire, according to Raymond Thompson, the county extension agent for agriculture and natural resources.
Thompson, this week’s Russell County Hero, has held his position since 1982 and has been instrumental to the county’s agriculture through various workshops, programs and seminars the extension office has offered the past three decades. He has also been a longtime columnist for the Times Journal with his weekly Farm Roundup article, depicting the county’s current agricultural trends and how local farmers can take advantage of them.
But as the economy goes through a tough recession, Thompson warned that many people are forgetting about the nation’s farmers that feed the population and the effect the economy has had on the farming industry, including those he has helped to mentor in Russell County for many years.
“One thing we know is operators are getting older all the time,” he said.
“There are more females now that are farming and that consider themselves full-time farmers than ever before, and that’s everywhere.”
He said back when the county, and state, was producing more tobacco it was harder for females to in the crop.
“So we’ve switched to a lot more horticulture crops and greenhouses,” he said. He also said women farmers tended to be more involved with the equine industry than men, according to recent Kentucky Department of Agriculture statistics.
But, Thompson said he still worries about the current farm operator trends.
“There’s just not as many new, young farmers that are getting started into it as you might expect,” Thompson said.
He said the nation’s Farm Bureaus have been looking at the issue of depleting farms for a long time.
“Other farm groups have been very concerned about that,” he said.
“What happens when this generation quits farming?”
He did say, statewide, there were quite a few young farmers starting out, but that the majority of them were focused on cattle.
“That’s where they feel like they can make it,” he said. Thompson said the dairy industry used to have many young farmers locally because they could take the long hours and seven day a week schedules it took to run such an operation.
But as the county’s dairy industry has dropped off dramatically from 130 farms in the early 80’s to around 30 today, the profitability for such an operation has not been there.
“And it is not much better for the beef farmer,” Thompson said, as he acknowledged the high price of feed and the cost it takes to board a cow in hopes of calving.
The beef market has also taken a hit as people are no longer buying prime cuts for consumption, rather purchasing cheaper ground beef, a practice that is also taking money out of farmer’s pockets.
“Cattle farmers don’t make any money from ground beef,” he said. “The loins and a few cuts like that are where cattle farmers make their money.”
For the farming economy to recover, he said, people need to get back to work when the jobs become available and start eating out again.
“The $30 a plate dinners is where the farmers get their money,” he said.
Another problem for the young farmer, Thompson said, was affordability, both of residential and farm land.
For many, the price is just too high to get into the farming business in its current situation, he said.
“That’s just what they face now,” he said.
While the local farm industry trudges along and new farmers try and find their way in the business, at least Russell County farmers can be somewhat at ease, knowing Raymond Thompson will be at the extension office with the answers to their agricultural problems.