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So, you want to be a farmer

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Extension Service column

By MATT ADAMS

The American farmer: One of the most prestigious and honorable professions in the world, yet fewer and fewer people every year are choosing farming as their occupation. Younger generations are continuing to choose career paths that take them away from the farm.
I recently found some shocking numbers as I sorted through some data collected through the 2007 census of agriculture.
First of all, in 2007, the average age of the American farmer was 57. This average age has increased by about one year every agriculture census cycle, or every five years, since 1978.
This drastic shift in demographics is obvious when comparing ag census data from 2002 and 2007. The number of farm operators younger than 45 has declined by 14 percent, while the number of farm operators 65 or older has spiked by 22 percent. Hardin county is no exception to this trend; 30-34 percent of farmers in the county are older than 65.
With an uncertain economy, volatile commodity markets and increasing input prices, production agriculture may not be as attractive of a career choice as it once was. In Kentucky, the declining tobacco economy has certainly limited the number of economically viable opportunities for beginning farmers to get a start in production agriculture.
Still, even with so much uncertainty, some are taking the plunge and returning to the farm. These brave individuals certainly should not go it alone. Even the most educated beginning farmers should have some guidance. This is why the Hardin County Cooperative Extension Service has chosen to participate in the Heartland FarmStart Program for beginning farmers.
This intensive educational program is targeted toward producers in Hardin, Meade and LaRue counties who have less than 10-15 years experience managing a farm. This is a whole farm management program providing a foundation of production, marketing, management and networking needed to succeed in today’s agricultural environment. Our goal to help beginning producers develop close working relationships with agricultural lenders, industry professionals, Extension personnel, farm and commodity groups, and other farmers.
Heartland FarmStart is designed as a two-year program. In year one, producers participate in 10 face-to-face educational programs, including traditional county Extension programs, on-farm demonstrations and field trips, ultimately totaling 36 hours of classroom-type education. Most classes meet in the mornings and end with a lunch, allowing participants a chance to reflect on what they have learned that day with other participants and the day’s presenters. In year two, participants have the option of being paired up with a successful farmer/mentor.
The main goal of the program is to assist beginning farmers in evaluating their land, labor and resources to make management decisions that are profitable and beneficial to their operations.
The first session is scheduled for Febr. 4. Registration continues through Jan. 28. A short registration form and survey must be completed and turned in, along with a $50 deposit, to register. The forms are available at the Hardin, Meade, and LaRue county Extension offices. For more information, contact the Hardin County Extension office at 765-4121.
Forage Crops Educational Programs:
Some exciting educational opportunities concerning forage crops are coming up in the new year. The first is the Forages at KCA program  on Jan. 25, in conjunction with the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association Convention in Lexington. The program, led by renowned forage expert Gary Lacefield, proves to be exceptional year after year. Topics for this year’s program include “Hay for Horses: Needs and Wants,” “Strategies to Reduce Animal Losses,” “Endophyte in Tall Fescue” and “Controlling Weeds in Cattle and Horse Pastures.”
On Jan. 25-26, the Heart of America Grazing Conference will be held in Louisville. The conference rotates between several states and only comes to Kentucky once every five years. It features several forage specialists from across the country and covers many topics from grazing management practices to brazing nontraditional crops.
The Small Ruminant Grazing Conference is Jan. 15, at the Hardin County Extension in Elizabethtown. It features programs about grazing sheep and goats.
For more information on any of these exciting opportunities, contact the Hardin County Extension Office at 765-4121.
Matt Adams is a Hardin County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources.