Farming is big business in Illinois, contributing billions to the state’s economy.
And for many, the pandemic raised awareness of the need for a local and regional food supply chain. But the number of farmers in Illinois is declining and the most recent census data shows the average age of a farmer is nearly 60.
It’s a national issue, according to a recent survey by the National Young Farmers Coalition. The lack of young farmers is concerning to the agriculture industry and to lawmakers.
Evan Hultine, president of Bureau County’s Farm Bureau, is a farmer himself.
“You need people to carry on the fort from previous generations” says Hultine.
David Toledo started his company, Contemporary Farmer Inc., with $3,000 in savings and $1,000 from his parents. Toledo says even though he knows how to work the land, starting a farm is a lot of work.
“It’s a lot of mental work, it’s a lot of logistics; you have to strategically plan when to seed so you can plan for your harvest, take your soil analysis so you can get the nutritional value from the crop that we want,” Toledo said.
Hultine says getting the money to start a farm for any young farmer is hard — but over the past couple of years the price of farmland has increase outrageously.
“When you put in the 20, 25% or more increase in land cost we’ve seen the last couple years, it’s a major barrier to getting started and establishing your own ground,” he said.
Toledo agrees. “It’s incredibly challenging to get more resources, to get answers, and to continue to establish these roots on this local Chicago food system.”
At the congressional level, lawmakers have been trying to lessen the challenges young farmers face. With programs designed to help minority farmers and ranchers, women, and and beginning farmers and ranchers.