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close this bookCERES No. 058 (FAO Ceres, 1977, 50 p.)
close this folderWorld report
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View the documentReversal of a historical trend: more young farmers in the United States

Reversal of a historical trend: more young farmers in the United States

The course of events in the world in the past century created a certain image of development: industry was the vehicle of the future, agriculture the guardian of the past. The farmer class, tradition-bound and hostile to change, was diminishing steadily, in number as well as in proportion, in all dynamic countries. It had come to the point where to designate the rich countries, the economically most developed, one uses the term "industrialized countries." How far would this trend go?

The answer is known today.

In the United States, the most industrialized country of the world, the return to nature is a phenomenon that cannot fail to attract attention. It is not merely a matter of a new attitude toward life but of a trend that may have economic and social implications. It is significant, in this context, that the number of young farmers is on the increase in the United States: in five years, the increase was 35 percent.

According to an analysis of census figures by Calvin L. Beale, of the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there were 358 000 young farmers less than 35 years of age in 1975, versus 265 000 in 1970. These numbers refer only to those who gain their livelihood from agriculture and who have made it their principal job.

After the First World War, the number of farms and of agricultural enterprises diminished greatly in the United States, resulting in a rise in the average age of farm operators: from 43.5 years in 1910 to 51.3 in 1965. In the same period, the proportion of farmers less than 35 years old dropped from 29 to 11.5 percent. This evolution was quite alarming and evoked concern as to where it would all end. In 1970, a peak figure was recorded: the median age of farmers was 53. I years.

However, in the years that followed, an inversion of this trend was observed. From 1970 to 1975, the average age of farmers declined from 53.1 to 50.4. During the same time the number aged 60 years or over diminished by 23 percent (from 601 000 to 461 000).

Therefore, in this regard, agriculture seems to be going through a transition. Foreseeable, the day has to come when the situation will stabilize.

Meanwhile, why is the number of young farmers increasing in the United States? One reason is rising farm income-a better profit picture. Another is that young people have a new concept of rural life and of work on the land, which they often prefer to city life. Their philosophical attitude has changed just at the time when they have to choose an occupation. Finally, the number of young people seeking employment is particularly large at present due to the high birthrate -the baby boom- registered in the 1950s.

In any case certain articles of faith have to be corrected. There was once the impression that the average age of farmers was advancing, and that the rural exodus would go on forever. But, since 1970, there has been a reversal of these trends.

· The oyster raft

In Sierra Leone, oysters are grown on ropes hanging from rafts made of bamboo and old oil barrels. The method has two major advantages over the traditional gathering of oysters from mangroves in brackish water: the oysters are much easier to harvest and they are much larger (because they are not exposed to heat during low tide). A single oyster raft can yield some 60 kg of oyster meat in 6 to 9 months.