Survey shows  money, land figure in as job obstacles

Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (May 19, 2015) — Making enough money to get by is one of the biggest obstacles facing young Maryland farmers, an informal state agriculture department survey released last week shows.
Other major issues according to nearly 350 respondents include the amount of available land to rent or purchase, government regulation and access to credit and finance.
The results were part of a 41-question survey of 466 young farmers — some a bit older — from the state’s 23 counties. The Maryland Young Farmers Advisory Board administered the survey, and the results were released to the state agricultural commission at its May 13 meeting.
The survey, which was taken on SurveyMonkey, a popular online survey site, includes questions regarding how long respondents have been farming, what state farming organizations and programs they participate in, what they produce, what they use to promote their operations and what their plans are. Department employees said they recruited respondents through various means.
Of 320 respondents who answered a question about their age, nearly 30 percent said they were between 28 and 32 years old. About 20 percent said they were between 33 and 39. About 19 percent were between 23 and 27. Almost 10 percent were between 18 and 22. More than 20 percent were older than 40.
One positive the survey reveals: Young farmers are hopeful.
Just more than half of 331 respondents to a question about the next five years said they plan to purchase farmland. In a second similar question that allowed respondents to choose multiple answers, more than 60 percent of 331 respondents said they plan to increase the acreage they farm. Nearly 42 percent said they plan to expand their operations. Nearly 40 percent said they plan to purchase additional equipment valued at more than $20,000.
Though more than 40 percent said they did not grow up on a farm, more than 90 percent said passion for farming keeps them in the industry. About 35 percent of them have also been farming less than five years.
Young farmers also embrace the digital age. When asked what sources they use for farming information, the Internet was the most popular answer at more than 86 percent of 443 respondents. An almost equal number of respondents said they sought the advice of other farmers. Books and the University of Maryland Extension were also popular choices. Almost half the respondents said they owned the farm or agricultural operation they worked.
The majority of respondents said they were engaged in the production of field crops, vegetables or livestock. Nearly 30 percent said they were poultry farmers, reflecting, perhaps, how many respondents were not from the Eastern Shore. Department officials said many respondents came from northeastern Maryland, specifically counties around Baltimore.
A fitting question for millennial farmers, when asked whether they used social media for their farm, most — more than 60 percent — said yes. Facebook was by far the most popular choice with nearly 60 percent 346 respondents using it. Instagram and personal blogs were the second and third most popular choices.
The survey also included written answers that were not included in the hard copies issued to commission members. Department officials said respondents often expressed a fierce opposition to what they considered government over-regulation of farm practices.