April 20 2023 09:24 AM

As farmers age, we need more people ready to continue their work.

“Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes” is an old George Jones song that discusses the future of country music. Throughout the song, it discusses the “greats” of the day and asks the question, “who will take their place?” The whole song poses the big question of what will happen in the future because no one wants to see the end of country music. In the agriculture world, I feel as if we ask the same question more often than not.

While I was growing up, the average age of the American farmer was always in the 50s or early 60s. Today, it is roughly 57.5. As most Americans are three generations removed from the farm, this age is alarming.

When considering that age, I can’t help but wonder who is going to fill their shoes. It seems like since the beginning of time, the general public viewed farmers as uneducated and unskilled people who farm because that’s all they can do. Many folks turned their noses up and encouraged their kids to attend college and “do something” with their life other than farming. The reality of it is that due to the lack of knowledge of the farming world, there aren’t as many folks out there to take over some day.

Now, yes, I am worried about the future. Our jobs and responsibilities at our operations are not for the faint of heart. We work incredibly hard day in and day out to ensure the world is fed, clothed, and sheltered. I do have to hand it to the FFA and 4-H groups. The kids that come out of these programs have an understanding of the world of agriculture and are incredible leaders and ready for a new tomorrow. They are advocates and have done an amazing job increasing the knowledge and presence of agriculture throughout their communities. With leaders like them, our future is a little brighter.

Farming is not easy. The average age of an American farmer is not on the younger side. It’s worrisome to know that our future in the farming world and with food sustainability is uncertain. Without folks to fill our shoes, the future remains in question. The bright light at the end of the tunnel consists of groups like 4-H and FFA, but even they face challenges each and every day. So, the question remains, who’s gonna fill the shoes of the farmers?

Courtney Henderson

The author is a sixth-generation farmer and fifth-generation dairy producer in southwest Virginia, where she and her family own and operate a 145-head Holstein dairy. Courtney is involved in agriculture organizations throughout her community and is a graduate of Virginia Tech.