09 August 1999
‘USA to lose half its farmers’

By Boyd Champness

THE USA expects to lose more than half of its two million farmers over the next decade, according to one of Americas leading producers.

Professional Farmers of America (Pro Farmer) president Dan Manternach was talking by video link from Iowa to Australian farmers at a conference in Bendigo, Victoria, last week.

The massive reduction in farmers would come from the mid-sized farm sector, he said.

Many of Americas mid-sized farmers were not big enough to compete with the very large farmers, yet were too small to consider off-farm employment.

Mr Manternach told the Australians: “[Farmers] are being forced to either expand to reach maximum economy of scale, or cut back and find some off-farm employment.”

He believes the attrition rate will be greater than that experienced during the agricultural depression of the mid-1980s.

With the average age of US farmers at 56, many of the displaced will simply go into retirement.

“Some will work for other farmers, some will custom-farm for other farmers, some will downsize and find off-farm employment and some will leave farming altogether,” he told the conference.

Those that are left will account for an increasing percentage of Americas total farm output.

“At the moment the top 25% of US farmers account for 65% of total annual agricultural output of US$200 billion (£125bn). Of these, 7% account for 40% of the total output,” he said.

Mr Manternach said the farmer of the future would spend very little time on the land, instead becoming more business and customer-orientated.

“They will be spending most of their time in an office, on the telephone, on the Internet and they will be hiring people to run the machinery,” he said.