Securing adequate land to grow crops and raise livestock was the top challenge identified again this year in the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual outlook survey of participants in the Young Farmers & Ranchers program. That challenge was identified by 22 percent of respondents, followed by economic challenges, particularly profitability, which was identified by 15 percent of the respondents.
"For young people today, securing adequate land to begin farming or expand an established farm or ranch is a major challenge," said Jake Carter, AFBF's national YF&R Committee chair and a farmer from Georgia. "Another major challenge is figuring out how to excel — not just survive — in today's economy," he said.
Other issues ranked as top concerns by young farmers and ranchers included burdensome government regulations and red tape, 12 percent; availability of farm labor and related regulations, nine percent; water availability and urbanization of farm land, seven percent each; and health care availability and cost, six percent.
The 22nd annual YF&R survey revealed that 91 percent of those surveyed are more optimistic about farming and ranching than they were five years ago. Last year, 90 percent of those surveyed said they were more optimistic about farming compared to five years ago.
The 2014 survey also shows 93 percent of the nation's young farmers and ranchers say they are better off than they were five years ago. Last year, 83 percent reported being better off.
More than 91 percent considered themselves lifetime farmers, while 88 percent would like to see their children follow in their footsteps. The informal survey reveals that 87 percent believe their children will be able to follow in their footsteps.
The majority of those surveyed — 69 percent — consider communicating with consumers a formal part of their jobs. Many use social media platforms as a tool to accomplish this. The popular social media site Facebook is used by 74 percent of those surveyed. Twenty-two percent of respondents said they use the social networking site Twitter, 16 percent have a farm blog or webpage and 13 percent use YouTube to post videos of their farms and ranches.
"Use of technology and all the tools at our fingertips to not only improve production practices on the farm but also to interact with consumers — our customers —among young farmers continues to grow," Carter said. "Use of social media platforms, personal outreach through farm tours, agri-tourism, farmers' markets or a combination of these methods is where we're at today," he added.
High-speed Internet is used by 71 percent of those surveyed, with 28 percent relying on a satellite connection and fewer than two percent turning to dialup.
New this year, the young farmers and ranchers were asked about their rural entrepreneurship efforts, with 40 percent reporting they had started a new business in the last three years or plan to start one in the near future.
The survey also shows that America's young farmers and ranchers are committed environmental caretakers, with 55 percent using conservation tillage to protect soil and reduce erosion on their farms.
AFBF President Bob Stallman said the results of the YF&R survey point to the future of U.S. agriculture being in good hands.
"I am confident that the know-how and tenacity of our young farmers and ranchers will ensure that the best days are ahead for our country and agriculture," Stallman said. "They are the future of American agriculture and food production."
The informal survey of young farmers and ranchers, ages 18-35, was conducted at AFBF's 2014 YF&R Leadership Conference in Virginia Beach, VA, in February. The purpose of the YF&R program is to help younger members learn more about farming and ranching, network with other farmers and strengthen their leadership skills to assist in the growth of agriculture and Farm Bureau.