Agriculture is wrestling with a unique labor problem, and it’s affecting rural America, Land O’Lakes President and CEO Beth Ford told the Minneapolis Fed’s Regional Economic Conditions Conference on Jan. 13, 2020.
The crisis stems from an aging and shrinking pool of farmers and farm workers. The average age of American farmers, Ford said in her keynote address, is now 58 years old, adding, “That is a significant issue because the question is, ‘Who’s going to take over?’”
Of grave concern to Ford is the social and economic decline of rural communities, which is where her cooperative’s members live. She described rural America as “the new inner city,” citing the neglect and lack of investment. A quarter of the children live in poverty. Residents have less access to health care as many hospitals close. Millions live without access to broadband, a critical economic and communications necessity.
With depressed commodity prices, increased Chapter 12 bankruptcies, and trade wars, she said the median average income for farmers was negative $1,500.
But it’s not just a workforce issue, she told the Minneapolis Fed conference. “It is about the strength of our nation and our food supply.”
Tu-Uyen Tran is the senior writer in the Minneapolis Fed’s Public Affairs department. He specializes in deeply reported, data-driven articles. Before joining the Bank in 2018, Tu-Uyen was an editor and reporter in Fargo, Grand Forks, and Seattle.