Are the United States at Risk of a Farming Crisis?

rfefefIn the United States food seems plentiful. Around the country, grocery stores are fully stocked, produce and other goods are relatively cheap, and most people have easy access to a wide variety of foods.

But what’s visible on the surface doesn’t show the whole picture. More than 42 million Americans suffer from food insecurity, and the farming industry is on the decline.

So, is it possible that America is facing a food crisis?

Well, on the one hand, the United States does have a uniquely advantageous position in the world regarding food supply. Americans spend less than 10% of their household income on food, while in other countries like Cameroon or Kenya it can be closer to 50%. Part of the reason for such cheap food is due to trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement, which removed most taxes on goods coming into the US from Canada and Mexico. Cheaper labor and lower regulations in Mexico ultimately means cheaper goods.

Compared to 20 years ago, Americans eat twice as much fruit and three times as many vegetables grown just outside the country. But in an effort to drive the food economy, many believe the American farmer has been left behind, prompting overreliance on foreign sources of food.

American farming is in crisis. That’s Sophie Ackoff, the national field director for the National Young Farmers Coalition,a grassroots network of young farmers fighting for the future of farming – “Only 6% of our farmers in the US are under the age of 35, and young people who are starting to farm are facing huge obstacles, like accessing affordable farmland, accessing credit and capital that they need to succeed.”

Just since 2014, the US Department of Agriculture has reported a loss of about 1 million acres of farmland, translating to roughly 18,000 farm closures. The USDA has reported that it expects to see 20,000 fewer university graduates in areas like agriculture and the environment, than the industry needs over the next five years.

Young farmers recognize this as a problem: “It’s important for young people like me to get into farming, because if young people aren’t pursuing careers in agriculture we won’t continue to have small farms and it’ll radically change how our food works and if we’re not producing it ourselves that’s a problem.”

At the same time, other countries like China have been doubling down on their farming industry. From 2001 to 2008, China invested roughly $4 billion dollars in their agricultural research and development, and today some estimate the number of Chinese farmers to nearly equal the total population of the United States.

But the US is keen to attract young farmers to at least keep the current supply of domestic food producers stable. Some states have even started offering student loan forgiveness to new farmers, adding to the current list of forgivable occupations such as teaching and law enforcement. – “We have a campaign called Farming is Public Service. Farmers don’t see themselves necessarily as public servants; they want to be recognized as entrepreneurs, but we don’t see this as mutually exclusive. We believe farmers can produce goods for their community, steward the land, and feed their communities, and at the same time be profitable businesses.”

As both the US and world population continue rising, they’re coupled with an increasingly turbulent system of climate change, creating droughts, floods, and other farming disasters. This means that there is potentially less space to grow food, but more people who want it.

“In the next 25 years, two-thirds of farmer-owned land in the US will transition ownership, so if there aren’t young farmers ready and willing to take on this land, we’ll see that land transition out of agriculture, potentially sold to corporate farms or bought by non-farm owners.”

Without young farmers filling in for a huge number of retiring farmers, more and more food production will move out of the country, leaving the US at the mercy of its neighbors.

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