The future of farming in Virginia is facing an age problem, but events such as this week’s 68th annual Augusta County 4-H/Future Farmers of America Market Animal Show and Sale are a major help, said Matt Lohr, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The Market Animal Show is an opportunity for kids ages 9 through 17 to demonstrate the work they have put into raising their steer, hogs and lambs before potentially selling them to interested buyers.
According to Lohr, the average age of a Virginia farmer is 58.2 years. This week’s event, which saw more than 200 young registered exhibitors, is a refreshing reminder that farming, Virginia’s top industry at $55 billion a year, is still attractive to the younger generation.
Lohr feels that the average age has to do with 98 percent of the population no longer being involved in production agriculture, having ‘lost that personal connection to working land.’ But things may be on the way up.
“People no longer have an uncle, cousin or grandmother whose farm they visit regularly,” said Lohr, who was at the show and sale on Thursday. “There for a while, it seems that people kind of forgot all about farming, but a new consciousness seems to be dawning as people realize a couple of things. One is simply that without agriculture, we’d all starve, so there is a deep fulfillment about providing such a necessary service. Two, a lot of people love the lifestyle, and I think that’s a big part of the changing dynamic.”
Lohr is excited for the future and said there are encouraging reports that agriculture is an up-and-coming career for young adults and that the show is an example of the enthusiasm and potential. According to Fox News, more than 146,000 college students across the nation are pursuing college degrees in agriculture, a 21-percent increase since 2006. Two factors for the rise of interest in agriculture studies are job availability and stability.
Kendall Freed, a 16-year-old Wilson Memorial High School student who participated in the event, looks forward to it every year and calls it her ‘passion,' while planning to make it her career as an adult.
“I got involved because I’m the third generation of my family to participate in it. It’s something near and dear to my heart,” she said.
It’s music to Lohr’s ears.
“I’m not saying older farmers aren't creative, but an influx of young minds and young bodies certainly is a great asset to the industry of agriculture in Virginia,” Lohr said.
For the older farmers in attendance, seeing the young ones carry on the duties was a delight.
“It’s very refreshing,” said 71-year-old farmer Larry Cohron, who believes the lack of young farmers is due to the realization that there is ‘more money to be made off the farm.’ “To see that there is some interest in the agricultural world among the young people, it’s exciting. My own daughter is a veterinarian, and she was influenced by this show.”
Freed stressed the importance of agriculture and continuing to work in making in thrive in The Commonwealth, especially with the help of the young ones.
“It’s what feeds America,” Freed said.