What concerns keep young farmers up at night? According to the American Farm Bureau's latest survey of participants in the Young Farmers and Ranchers program, there isn't just one issue.
When asked about their top challenge, 22% of respondents said securing adequate land to grow crops and raise livestock, followed by economic challenges, particularly profitability, which was identified by 15% of the respondents.
Other issues ranked as top concerns by young farmers and ranchers included government regulations and red tape, 12%; availability of farm labor and related regulations, 9%; water availability and urbanization of farm land, 7% each; and health care availability and cost, 6%.
The informal survey of young farmers and ranchers, ages 18-35, was conducted at AFBF's 2014 YF&R Leadership Conference in Virginia Beach, Va., in February.
The survey, now in its 22nd year, also revealed that 91% of those surveyed are more optimistic about farming and ranching than they were five years ago. Last year, 90% of those surveyed said they were more optimistic about farming compared to five years ago.
In addition, 93% of the nation's young farmers and ranchers say they are better off than they were five years ago. Last year, 83% reported being better off.
More than 91% considered themselves lifetime farmers, while 88% would like to see their children follow in their footsteps. The informal survey reveals that 87% believe their children will be able to follow in their footsteps.
Nearly 70% of respondents consider communicating with consumers a formal part of their jobs, many using social media. Of those surveyed, 74% use Facebook, while 22% use Twitter. Fewer respondents use a farm blog/webpage or Youtube, at 16% and 13%.
"Use of technology and all the tools at our fingertips to not only improve production practices on the farm but also to interact with consumers–our customers–among young farmers continues to grow," Carter said. "Use of social media platforms, personal outreach through farm tours, agri-tourism, farmers' markets or a combination of these methods is where we're at today," he added.
High-speed Internet is used by 71% of those surveyed, with 28% relying on a satellite connection and fewer than 2% turning to dialup.
New this year, the young farmers and ranchers were asked about their rural entrepreneurship efforts, with 40% reporting they had started a new business in the last three years or plan to start one in the near future.
The survey also shows that America's young farmers and ranchers are committed environmental caretakers, with 55% using conservation tillage to protect soil and reduce erosion on their farms.