Vermont Press Releases

Most Exiting Farmers in Vermont May Have No One to Take Over the Farm, New Study Shows

News Release — American Farmland Trust
April 25, 2016

Contact:
Cris Coffin, Policy Director, Land For Good
Direct: 413-695-4653
Office: 603-357-1600
Email: [email protected]
www.farmland.org

Nearly 30% of New England’s farmers are likely to exit farming in the next 10+ years, and 9 out of 10 of them are farming without a young farmer alongside. This is according to new analysis of U.S. Census of Agriculture data that was part of a study released today by American Farmland Trust (AFT) and Land For Good (LFG). The year-long study—that also included farmer focus groups—sheds new light on what will be needed to facilitate the transition of farms and farmland in Vermont to a next generation of farmers. At no point is a farm’s future more at risk than during this transition.

In Vermont, farmers age 65 and older operate 28% of the state’s farms. Of these 2,076 senior farmers, just 9% of them have someone under age 45 managing the farm with them. The study also found that Vermont had 19% fewer young (under age 45) farm operators in 2012 than in 2002.

“It was a real wake-up call to see how few farmers age 65+ have a next generation working on the farm with them,” said Cris Coffin, Policy Director for Land For Good, who directed the study. “How and to whom this land and farm infrastructure transfers will have an enormous impact on the future of farming in New England.”

Based on focus groups with farmers, the study documents that older farmers are concerned about retirement; especially those farmers without a next generation farmer or owner to take over. Farmers are also unsure about how to find a younger farmer who can afford to buy their land. Many also want help to make sound transfer agreements.

According to the study, 30% of New England’s farmers are likely to exit farming over the next 10-20 years. “The 1.4 million acres they manage and $6.45 billion in land and agricultural infrastructure they own will change hands in one way or another,” said Coffin. “To keep this land and infrastructure in farming as it transitions, we will need better policy tools and increased support services to exiting and entering farmers.”

In Vermont, farmers age 65 and older manage 363,600 acres and own a collective $1.2 billion in land and agricultural infrastructure, much of which may transfer ownership in the next 10-20 years.

Using Census of Agriculture data (2002, 2007 and 2012), the AFT-LFG study looked at characteristics of farmers in New York and the six New England states, and at both ends of the experience spectrum—those at or beyond retirement age, and those young or new to farming. In all seven states, AFT and LFG conducted focus groups of older farmers who self-identified as having no farm successor. The goal was to learn more about what these farmers are farming and with whom, their vision of retirement, and what challenges they see for the future.

“Some senior farmers may have a plan for their farm’s future,” said Jesse Robertson-DuBois, New England Director for American Farmland Trust. “But we learned through this study that many do not. A large number of older farmers are worried about their ability to retire and to find a younger farmer who can afford to buy their land.”

Older farmers who participated in the focus groups all want to see their land remain in farming, though most see financing and future economic viability for younger farmers as an obstacle. Farmers identified their needs for help to navigate the complex process of choosing the right succession strategy and finding a suitable successor. Many also want technical assistance on specific aspects of farm succession and transfer.

Additional information about the study and a profile of findings from each state can be found on the American Farmland Trust and Land For Good websites, at www.farmland.org/gaininginsights or www.landforgood.org/gaininginsights.

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