Becoming and being a young farmer
Ross Langmaid has been responsible for his own farm since he was 17. Now he is 27, that means he’s been growing corn and soybeans - in addition to raising some 1,000 hogs - for ten years already. “And I’m pretty sure that I’m still the youngest farmer in the county,” he laughs.
The aging of the global agricultural workforce has received more and more attention over the past few years. The United States is no exception, where the most recent USDA census gave 57.1 years as the average age of the principal farm operator. Similar trends have been observed all over the globe: in Europe (see page 36), Australia and even Thailand and Indonesia.
Even with more and more farmers retiring, Ross explains that the path to becoming a full-time farmer is still difficult. “I always knew that farming is what I wanted to do, but getting started in the business isn’t easy. You have to prove every day that you can manage the crops, the machinery, the animals and, of course, the finances.” Ross is the first to say that he has had lots of help. His father lives across the highway, and his grandfather just down the road. In fact, Ross’s family has been farming the land just north of Newton, Iowa for over one hundred years now.
No pressure, right? “Oh yeah, there’s major pressure,” he acknowledges. “You have to have good people to advise you, good landlords and contractors to help you if things go wrong. In that respect, I’m very lucky.”
Even though he’s been driving tractors and helping out around the farm since he was five, Ross still encountered a few hiccups along the way, “The first year I sold my corn but then the price suddenly dropped 30 cents. I had to come up with the money by myself to make up the difference.”
For many American teenagers, the last year of high school is supposed to be at least a little fun. Ross, though, spent his after school time figuring machinery costs per acre, watching the commodity markets, timing the weather and managing the soil—everything that goes with running a modern farm.
Before long my two hours on his farm have passed. It’s late Friday afternoon, quitting time for most of the workaday world. Not for Ross: a tractor needs fixing and the hogs, well, they’re always hungry.