Farm industry in need of young people - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Farm industry in need of young people

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La Crosse (WXOW) -- According the most recent Census of Agriculture, the average age of an American farmer is 58 years old.

"I went away for school. I went to Arizona State, got my degree in art," said Kelly Placke, Grassmilk Farmer near Cuba City. "I was an art teacher for six years after that."

Placke grew up on a small organic family farm located in Southwestern Wisconsin. She says it took her going away to rediscover her roots.

"Living on teachers wages it was really hard for me to afford organic," she said. "I was like, 'I would really just like to go home and raise my own meats and vegetables and milk.'"

The average age of an organic farmers is five years below that of a conventional farmer at 53 years old.

"The only reason I'm able to be a young farmer is, because I was able to get a fair price on the land from my father," Placke said.

She believes high land prices are to blame for a decline in young people choosing to go into agriculture. But regardless of why, with many farm operators at or beyond retirement, the question becomes, 'Who will continue?'

"When you look around and see the depression, the conventional farming, the next generation doesn't want to come in necessarily," said Ron Holter, Grassmilk Farmer from near Frederick, Maryland. "You're dragging them kicking and screaming or whatever. They feel it's a duty they have to come in."

Holter does not have to experience that on his farm, as his son is stepping up to continue tradition into the sixth generation.

"I think we're all looking for meaningful work--something to do that's important, something we can contribute," said George Siemon, CEO of Organic Valley. "I love to see that feeling when I see the young people."

Farmers encourage young people to consider investing in the industry, because you never know.

"I definitely think in agriculture, in organic agriculture, I see myself there for the rest of my life," Placke said.

Placke says you might find a career that turns into a lifelong passion.

Both Holter and Placke are Organic Valley farmers. That co-op leadership is also going through some growing pains as many of the founders look ahead to retirement. Siemon says he is optimistic that there are bright young people ready to fill those holes.

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