“That’s kind of a goal of every farmer to see the legacy … continue on for feeding the world,” farm owner Duane Hinchley said.
Duane is a fifth-generation farmer with hopes and dreams for his family farm to carry on. But that’s a challenge farmers across the nation are facing.
According to the USDA, the average age of a U.S. farmer is nearly 60 years old. And as farmers look to the next generation to take on the job, the future remains uncertain.
Although the number of young farmers went up by 2% between 2012 and 2017. That number pales in comparison to farmers 65 or older, which rose by 11%. Now, supporting the next generation of farmers is the driving force behind the National Young Farmers Coalition.
“We just don’t want our young farmers to be martyrs, right? And to sort of be sacrificing themselves on the altar of progress, we want to make sure that there is support there,” Carolina Mueller with the National Young Farmers Coalition said.
Duane and his wife Tina have dedicated 60 years of their lives to dairy farming at their family farm in Cambridge, Wisconsin. But with retirement looming, only one of their four children has decided it’s her responsibility to carry on the family business.
“Farming comes first, family alongside the farm. But the farm is the foundation that builds your family,” Duane’s daughter Anna Hinchley-Skadahl, said.
Anna is 24 years old and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin in Madison with a degree in dairy science. She’s learned much about farming from her professors and mentors, but maybe most importantly, she’s also learned from her father.
“I followed my dad everywhere on the farm,” Duane said. “I was his little tag-a-long guy, and she’s my little tag-a-long gal.”
“Taking the steps to teach me how to do dairy aspects of the farming, the crop farming, the physical work, but then there’s also the financial stuff and, you know, there’s just so much,” Anna said.
Many realize that making a living off of farming is a tough venture. But for some it’s a life they wouldn’t trade for anything else.
“No one’s trying to get rich off of this. You don’t get into farming because you want to become a billionaire. You get into farming because because you love it,” Mueller said.
And that’s exactly what motivates Anna.
“We all really care about the farmer and it’s all right here for all of us,” Anna said.
Many U.S. farmers are aging out of the business and younger generations have been slow to step in, leaving a troubling gap. Generational farming and its future is shaky now that younger people are making decisions to begin other careers. However, farming is a calling that puts family first.
It’s interesting to note that Anna’s three other siblings have no interest in taking over the farm. Any decision moving forward would rest with her. The 24-year-old farmer was full of emotion when she spoke of her pride in becoming the sixth generation farmer in her long family history.