Explore how ag programs like FFA and 4-H help pass along the family farm tradition.
There’s a misconception going on about agriculture in this country. Many consumers believe that the industry has been taken over by corporations running “factory farms.” The truth of the matter is that farms and ranches in the U.S. overwhelmingly maintain the family farm tradition. The 2012 U.S. Census of Agriculture showed that 97 percent of the 2.1 million farms in the U.S. are family-owned and operated. It also revealed that the average age of principal operators is 58.3 years old, meaning a large majority of those who run America’s family farms are likely to consider retirement soon. They’ll need someone to step into the role of principal operator. This is where programs like FFA and 4-H help to pass on the tradition of the family farm.
A Closer Look At the Family Farm Tradition
AgAmerica conducted its own study on the family farm tradition in 2015. Over 500 growers participated in our survey. We published it in the whitepaper, Families and Their Farms: Planning for the Future. Here are some highlights as they relate to the family farm:
- 74.9% of respondents’ operations are family-operated.
- Nearly 40% of responding growers definitely expect to pass the family farm on to the next generation.
- Just under 30% hoped to pass their operations on to the next generation, and almost 14% thought it was a possibility, but were unsure.
When asked about the biggest concern for transitioning the operation to the next generation, nearly 64% responded the greatest concern was ‘setting the next generation up for success,’ and nearly 30% responded ‘whether or not the next generation will want it.’ Programs like 4-H and FFA help to get younger generations interested in agriculture as a career path and set them up for a lifetime of success in ag.
The Benefits of FFA and 4-H on the Family Farm
Educational programs like FFA and 4-H give young people the chance to interact with agriculture in a focused and guided format. The scope and depth of the offerings are quite extensive. Whether raising an animal for a competition, putting together a topic for a speech contest or traveling away from home, such programs offer a wealth of experience to our youth in agriculture. Participants benefit in the following ways:
- Increased interest in agriculture
- The opportunity to gain knowledge about different forms and sectors of agriculture (which may be different from the family farm’s)
- Valuable skills like public speaking, writing, organization, utilizing peer networks and advocating for agriculture
- The chance for students to experience the challenges of agriculture in a positive setting, such as when raising an animal or plant to compete in shows like those at the Polk County Youth Fair, The Florida State Fair, and the Florida Strawberry Festival.
All of these skills help prepare our youth to step into leadership roles in agriculture and contribute to passing on the family farm tradition. Additionally, ag educational programs like FFA and 4-H also attract youth without any background in agriculture to the industry, helping others discover what it really takes to grow food safely and sustainably.
FFA and 4-H in AgAmerica
Many on AgAmerica’s lending team have experience in 4-H and FFA. Expanding his already deep roots in agriculture, AgAmerica’s Correspondent Lender Cameron Flowers was an active FFA member. “I won the state soil judging and farm and business management contests in South Carolina and then competed at the National level for both categories.” Experience gained through this participation has proven “invaluable as I have made my way in agriculture” says Cameron.
Regional Account Manager for AgAmerica Chuck Cruse has nothing but great things to say when it comes to his family’s participation in the 4-H, “4-H is a lifestyle for my family and me. My wife showed a steer for ten years and now I have a son and daughter that are showing both swine and cattle.”
“Most people don’t know what it takes or the time that is put into being a member of a 4-H group,” Cruse explains. “The animals are just a small part of the life lessons that 4-H teaches kids. By the end of each year’s project (animal), kids have had to produce a record book that educates them on the aspects of running a business or farming operation. They have to keep daily feed records, annual depreciation, break-even calculations, and also learn public speaking skills when marketing their project for sale at the local fair. 4-H has and will always be a part of my family now and in the future.”
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Cameron Flowers is a 7th generation South Carolinian having been born and raised in Aynor, South Carolina. He grew up working on his family’s tobacco and swine farm, and in high school won both the state FFA soil judging and farm business management competitions.