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Farm Succession Planning is Critical

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When the 2002 Census of Agriculture reported the average age of all U.S. principal farm operators was 55.3 years, the alarms sounded about the advancing age of farmers and what it will mean for farm structure and farm succession. The reality is, the average age of farmers has been more than 50 since the 1974 Census of Agriculture and has increased in each census since 1978, usually by one year or more from one census to the next. Farmers in Oklahoma and Texas are older than the national average, 56 years in Oklahoma and 56.9 years in Texas. But average ages somewhat mask the total picture. In Oklahoma, 29 percent of all farmers are 65 years of age or older. The corresponding figure for Texas is 31 percent. Of the people who declared their primary occupation as farming, 22.1 percent of all farmers in Oklahoma and 22.2 percent of all farmers in Texas are 65 years or older. The next highest percentage group of primary occupation farmers by age is the 55- to 64-year-old farmers, and they are only 13.1 percent of the total in Oklahoma and 12.1 percent of the total in Texas.

At the other end of the age spectrum, the percentage of principal farm operators with average ages of less than 35 years has declined on a national basis since 1982, when it was 15.9 percent. It was 5.8 percent in 2002. In Oklahoma, 6 percent of all farmers in 2002 were in the less-than-35-years age group. A little more than half of these, 3.1 percent, reported that their primary occupation was something other than farming. For Texas, these figures are 5.4 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively.

The map in Figure 1, from the National Agriculture Statistics Service on-line Census of Agriculture Agricultural Atlas, displays the county percentages of principal farm operators 65 years of age or older.

What might these statistics mean to you, regardless of your age? If you are a younger farmer, especially if you are in an area with a higher percentage of farmers 65 years old and over, you should have opportunities for expansion as older neighbors reach the point they can no longer farm. If you are an older farmer and you do not already have a well-thought-out retirement and/or succession plan in place, you should begin devoting serious effort to the process of transitioning your operation to whomever will follow you. Begin thinking along these lines, and we will explore some guidelines for succession planning in the September issue of Ag News and Views.

See also:
Begin Succession Planning Now, Sept., 2005


Thought for the month: I have seen the future, and it is a lot like the present, only longer. Dan Quisenberry