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EDWARDS, Ill. (AP) — The number of farms in Illinois is going down, but the remaining operations are growing bigger as aging farmers struggle to find successors, according to agricultural officials.

The Illinois Farm Bureau says the state has 71,000 farms, down from 241,000 farms a century ago, the Journal Star reported .

Succession is a major issue for older farmers, said Ross Pauli, who has an 800-acre farm in Edwards. Many farmers in the state don't have relatives who will take over the business, so neighboring farms take over the land instead and grow, he said.

"I don't have any kids to take over when I'm ready to retire," Pauli said. "I'd like to find a young farmer for my land."

Pauli, 57, represents the average age of farmers in Illinois, according to the farm bureau. Nationally, farmers older than 65 outnumber farmers younger than 35 by a ratio of six to one.

Farmers are likely working past the age when others would have retired because they "like what they're doing," said Patrick Kirchhofer, manager of the Peoria County Farm Bureau.

"It's a lifestyle that a lot of people like. You can be your own boss and you're rewarded by making good decisions," he said.

New farms likely aren't starting because the industry is expensive and difficult to break into, Pauli said.

"You can't go out and buy land and the equipment needed unless you're raising vegetables on smaller acreage," he said.

Already established farms will probably continue to grow, said Chris Magnuson, a spokesman for the Illinois Farm Bureau.

"Existing farmers are always on the lookout for more land," he said.

Advances in technology have allowed farmers to be more productive, giving them the capability to farm more ground with fewer people, Magnuson said.

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