Begin Farming Ohio

Begin Farming Ohio

For Ohio to have a sustainable future that includes agriculture, it needs to develop beginning farmers wherever they reside and in all age groups.

Generally, a beginning farm is considered to be one that is operated by one or more operators who have 10 years or less of experience operating a farm or ranch. In 2007, approximately 21 percent of U.S. family farms met that definition. Beginning farms in 2007, in contrast to established farms, were more likely to be small farms and were less likely to be producing for agricultural sales.

People starting to farm are not necessarily young people raised on a farm who begin to farm as an adult. New entrants include young people not raised on a farm, mid-career changers moving from a non-farming career into agriculture, and those retired from an occupation other than farming. Beginning farmers may have little to no production experience, and while some new entrants may have experience within a business, many are unlikely to have been business owners.

Success for beginning farmers and new farm business operators is far from assured, putting at risk their own livelihoods, Ohio’s communities, regional economic development, and the potential to operate local food systems. Regarding small farm survival, analysts at USDA’s Economic Research Service, report that small farms, like all small businesses, have a relatively high exit rate of 9 – 10% per year. Two primary factors affect the failure rate of agricultural enterprises: the size of the farm and the age of the operator. Farm exit rates decline as income of the farm increases and farm exit rates are lower for both producers between 45 and 54 years of age and for those with prior business experience.

A Few Definitions and Facts

The Federal Government currently defines a farm, for statistical purposes, as any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products (crops and livestock) were sold or normally would have been sold during the year under consideration. There are almost 76,000 farms in Ohio and almost 14,000,000 acres in farmland.

While Ohio farms range in size from 1 to more than 2,000 acres, in 2007 the average size farm was 184 acres and 42% of Ohio farms were less than 50 acres.

The profile of Ohio farms and principal operators is changing. During the 5-year period from 2002 to 2007, the percent of principal operators with a primary occupation of farming decreased from 56% to 43%. Comparing 2007 to 1997, while the number of 500+ acre farms decreased slightly and the number of 50-499 acre farms declined by 17%, only farms under 50 acres increased (+19%).

The average age of farmers is often the focal point of discussions regarding the future of agriculture, and in Ohio that age is 56. Of the 75,861 Ohio principal farm operators, 42% are age 35 - 54 (a period generally referred to as the prime working age) and another 52% are age 55 – 70+. Only 6% (4,729) principal operators are 34 and under. Both national and Ohio employment projections forecast a reduction in the industry Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting and a loss of Farmer and Rancher jobs (about 8% each during the 10-year period ending 2016). Nevertheless, farming is an occupation that continuously attracts new entrants.

A farm operator is a person who runs the farm, making the day-to-day decisions. A farm may have several operators. Ohio’s farms are operated by about 112,000 people, about 46,000 (40%) engage in farming as their primary occupation.

The principal operator of a farm is the person in charge, such as a hired manager, business manager, or other person primarily responsible for the on-site, day-to-day operation of each farm business. In 2007, more than 6,500 Ohio principal operators were on their present farm for 4 years or less and more than 11,000 were on their present farm between 5 – 9 years.

Meet a few of Ohio’s beginning farmers

Farmers featured in Profiles previously participated in a mentor-based pilot program for beginning farmers, operated by Innovative Farmers of Ohio (IFO) during the period 2006 – 2008. This pilot program, Wisdom in the Land, is referred to in the profiles of those who participated, often simply as WIL.

Thirty two people involved in 27 farms participated during the programs operation. The program offered knowledge-building seminars, skill-building workshops, dedicated individualized and small group mentoring with experienced farmers, and provided financial support and incentives.

Begin Farming Ohio thanks IFO for dedicating a portion of its 2009 SARE Outreach grant to enhance this website outreach to beginning farmers, incorporating profiles and resource information first published by IFO in 2008.

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