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Erica Ramsey Louder for Progressive Forage Published on 04 August 2021

Earlier this week, I attended an activity that my local Young Farmers and Ranchers group put on. Even though we sent out nearly a thousand invites, the turnout was dismal.

A couple of us older “young” farmers attended, but most were collegiate aggies from the local community college. We host a summer activity annually, but we struggle with the timing. There never is a good time for young farmers to take a night off. Farmers in the valley are combining grain, which rolls into third-cutting hay, and then digging potatoes, and then fourth-cutting hay, and then chopping corn and finishing in late October with sugarbeets. If we waited for a break, there would be no summer activity.

While we were cleaning up from the event, a couple of us stayed back and chatted. In late July, we are all feeling the burnout that has built up since the season started in March. Five months of wind and heat, mosquito bites and sunburns. Of replacing gearboxes, and tractor breakdowns and stuck pivots. The camping trips we’ve promised the kids haven’t happened, and school starts in three weeks. One farmer who just turned 30 shook his head at our talk and said he was done, done with it all. He said his dad never stops working. On Sunday afternoons at the family dinner table, the talk is of the pivot and the tractor they need to replace and what they expect cattle prices to do in the fall. This young farmer has worked alongside his dad since he returned to the farm at 22, yet he doesn’t know the man beyond farming. This 30-year-old doesn’t want that to be his fate. His wife is from Alaska, and he is confident he could get a mechanic job up there, and maybe his wife and four kids could get off Medicare and start saving for retirement.

When I was in college studying agriculture, I envied my peers who had family operations to return to. I dreamed of being a full-time farmer, and when I met my husband, we shared that dream. But, we knew that full-time farming wasn’t feasible for us, at least in the short term. Over the last 10 years, we’ve worked on that dream. We’ve bought cattle and land and equipment, and we’ve diversified. Yet, we’ve always had at least one full-time off-farm income to support ourselves. We each have retirement accounts and health insurance, and while I spend my vacation working cattle, I have vacation time. A few years ago, the dream of full-time farming burnt itself out. If it hadn’t happened then, I know the conversation I was currently having with my peers would have certainly dampened it.

There is so much to love in the lifestyle, but boy, farming is a hard way to make a living. If you know a millennial-aged farmer, we’ve lost the naïveté of college aggies and have yet to develop the callouses of a seasoned operator. We aren’t asking you to cut us slack, but if we suggest a different way to work and live on a farm, maybe you could listen?  end mark

Erica Ramsey Louder is a freelance writer based in Idaho. Email Erica Ramsey Louder.