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Hearing Looks at Effects of Aging Farmers on Ag Economy
Wisconsin Ag Connection - 06/22/2007

The fact that the average age of the Wisconsin farmer is raising every year is something to be concerned about. That's the message U.S. Senator Herb Kohl brought forth during a special hearing to address the aging of America's farmers on Thursday in Washington, D.C. The forum was sponsored by Senate Ag Committee Ranking Member Gordon Smith of Oregon.

Kohl maintained that Wisconsin is on the front line of those states facing the challenges of aging in agriculture.

"In my home state, the average Wisconsin farmer is 53 years old," he noted "It is critical that the decades of knowledge and experience of these farmers is not lost. Wisconsin's 76,000 farms generate more than $51 billion in economic activity every year, so it is not just a serious workforce issue, it is a critical issue for the entire Wisconsin economy."

John Rosenow, of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, was also on hand to offer testimony on the Academy's comprehensive Future of Farming and Rural Life Initiative. The project has issued over eighty recommendations to assure that agriculture and rural life in Wisconsin continues to thrive, which are the culmination of an extensive two-year project to gauge state and local priorities. They include improving access to affordable health care for farmers, strengthening rural education, improving access to technology, and funding the purchase of development rights to protect working farmlands.

Meanwhile, Dr. Keith Collins, Chief Economist of the United States Department of Agriculture, demonstrated the extent of the aging of farmers and raised the concern that the high costs of land and equipment stand as a deterrent to those considering a career in agriculture, rendering it difficult for new farmers to replace those set to retire soon. Additionally, Collins highlighted several USDA programs in place to help young farmers succeed.

Kohl is a member of the Senate Ag Committee.

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