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Oregon agriculture is getting grayer

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Oregon agriculture is getting older. The average age of Oregon’s farmers and ranchers is clearly rising, and that has people in the industry a bit concerned:

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According to the most recent Census of Agriculture, the average age of the state’s farmers and ranchers is at an all time high of 57.5 years old, up from 54.9 years old in the previous census. That figure has caught the attention of Katy Coba, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture:

COBA:  “I am a little bit concerned by that number and not sure what all the dynamics are that are contributing to that. These are numbers that were captured in 2007, so you can’t really attribute it to an economic downturn.”  :15

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If anything, that number may be higher right now as the economy forces younger and newer farm operators to get out of the business. The ultimate solution to keeping or attracting younger farmers and ranchers is to make the profession profitable:

COBA:  “I think we’ve got to focus on keeping agriculture in Oregon viable and showing that it is a job that young people should come into.”  :10

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In the previous census, Oregon’s average age of operator was below the national average. Now it is above it. The number of operators under 45 has dropped 31 percent over a five year period, the number over 65 increased 22 percent. Still, Coba is hopeful younger people will want to come into agriculture in the coming years to slow or reverse the tend. In Salem, I’m Bruce Pokarney.

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COBA says Oregon agricultural operators appear to be getting older than their counterparts in the rest of the nation, and the numbers back her up:

“In 2002, Oregon’s average age was below the national average age for farmers. Now, out of the 2007 census, it’s higher.”  :09

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COBA says it’s not a case of younger people not wanting to farm, but more of a case that they question whether they can make a living out of it:

“You look at your own children. You want them to get into a job or career where they are going to be successful. If we want young people to come into farming and ranching in Oregon, we need to show that it’s going to be a successful opportunity for them.”  :16

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