COLUMBUS, Ohio — U.S. farmers are aging, and the
agricultural community often expresses concern about who will replace them.
But that apprehension may be overblown, according to an
economist with Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural and
Although some farm communities worry over a lack of new,
younger farmers to replace the current population, these concerns are
unwarranted, according to a recently conducted analysis by Carl Zulauf, an
economist in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development
Economics, which is a part of CFAES.
Using U.S. Department of Agriculture census data from 1945
to 2007, as well as data from the U.S. Department of Labor from 1980 to 2010,
Zulauf compared the average age of U.S. farmers with the average age of the U.S.
His research showed that while on average U.S. farmers are
older than the U.S. labor force, the farmers and the labor force actually are
aging at a similar pace and, in fact, U.S. farmers are aging somewhat more
“U.S. farmers are aging, but their aging mirrors the U.S.
labor force,” Zulauf said in a policy brief on the topic. “The U.S. farmer
population is older than the U.S. labor force, but this has been true since 1980
and likely much earlier.”
His research showed that as of 2007, the average age of U.S.
farmers was 57.1 years, while in 1945 the average age was 48.7 years. Over this
62-year timeframe, the average age of U.S. farmers increased by 17 percent, or
However, since 1980, when data on the age of the labor force
became available, the average age of the U.S. labor force has increased by 7.1
years, from 34.6 to 41.7.
During the same time period, the average age of U.S. farmers
has increased by 7.1 years, from 50.5 to 57.1. Thus, each population has aged in
concert with one another, Zulauf said.
Zulauf attributed the older age of U.S. farmers to the
capital-intensive nature of the industry.
“It takes time for someone to accumulate the capital
necessary to compete in U.S.-style farming, either through inheritance or
savings or both,” he said.
Additionally, Zulauf noted that during the period evaluated,
there was a short timeframe when the average age of U.S. farmers actually
declined. This was during the 1970 period of booming farm prosperity.
During the current wave of farm prosperity, it is possible
that the nation may see a similar trend occur, he said.
“While much is written about the need to replace the aging
U.S. farmer population, the 1970 period of farm prosperity suggests the current
period of prosperity will lead to an influx of younger farmers — sons and
daughters of existing farmers and those from non-farm backgrounds,” he
“This influx will likely occur over a number of years and
its magnitude will depend on the staying power of the current farm
Zulauf’s full analysis, “Putting the Age of U.S. Farmers in
Perspective,” can be found at http://go.osu.edu/Xnu.