American Farmers: An Endangered Species

The decreasing population of American farmers means less diversity of crops, vacated rural communities, and reduced food security.

| April 18, 2012


Originally published in 2007, “Food Fight” is Daniel Imhoff's highly acclaimed primer on the complex issues contained within the Farm Bill. Now in a newly updated and expanded edition, Imhoff looks ahead at this important issue, as the debate for 2012 is already underway.


Every five to seven years, Congress passes a little understood legislation called the Farm Bill. To a large extent, the Farm Bill writes the rules and sets the playing field for America’s contemporary food system, determining what we eat, how much it costs, and where it is grown. You may not be happy with what you learn. In this excerpt from Daniel Imhoff’s Food Fight (Watershed Media, 2012), read about the current state of American farmers and how the Farm Bill affects this vital community. The following excerpt is taken from Chapter 12, “Who Will Grow Our Food?” Stop by our online store's promotional page to purchase Food Fight at a 25-percent discount until the end of 2012. 

“If we are not careful, we could lose the farm and the food system on our watch.” That drastic warning came from A.G. Kawamura in 2005, when he was secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Kawamura was not only alluding to how important forward-thinking policy is to the food system, but also to the fact that people who grow food for a living are becoming a dying breed. Already, agriculture is greatly diminished in terms of economic measures: it represents just 1.2 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product; services make up 77 percent and manufacturing 22 percent of GDP. It’s becoming a forgotten career path as well.

Principal farm operators over age 65 now outnumber those under 35 by a ratio of more than seven to one. Over the next 20 years, 400 million acres of agricultural lands—an area roughly five times the size of all our national parks combined—will be transferred to new owners. But who will be those new owners? Youth continue to migrate out from the corn-rich “heartland” and leave agriculture altogether. Many interested younger Americans simply can’t afford the costs of entry into farming. Others won’t accept the economic instability of the job. Meanwhile, each year the United States edges toward becoming a net importer of foods; already we import more than $80 billion in agricultural products each year. (See "U.S. Food Trade on the Rise" in the Image Gallery.)

In short, we don’t have enough people becoming farmers, and we’re starting to import food to fill the gap. And yet few people are debating our flagging national food security with the fervor expressed about oil imports or manufacturing jobs shipped overseas.

Even our domestic foods are processed and distributed by an ever-smaller group of corporations. Today, the majority of our food supply is in the hands of foreign producers or CEOs—as opposed to family farmers and a diverse corps of processors and regional distributors.

cornelia pierce
5/22/2012 8:17:56 PM

you are so right! in the late 70's when inheritance taxes were worse, I was a 20 year old college student when I inherited the family homestead farm, I had to sell off the contents of the house and barns, the livestock, my car, and take on two jobs to pay the governments piece of the action, and let me tell you it was touch and go, and left me broke for a decade. I held on, no thanks to the government,My husband has been helping local farmers do estate planning to help avoid the danger of being slammed in case of sudden death of the older generation, it makes me mad as hell when I hear someone spout off about increasing taxes on the "rich" nothing like being a innocent farmer and waking up one morning to find yourself an instant millionaire because a parent died, and the value of the land has sent your net worth into outer space.

t brandt
5/12/2012 2:41:31 PM

Overlooked is the govt's insidious plan to put the small farmer out of business by keeping the Death Tax on the books: a 1200 acre farm has a market value of $4-8 million. With half of our farmers now over 58 y/o, their deaths over the next two decades will force their heirs,suddenly land rich/cash poor, to sell out to pay the tax. Only the large corporartions will have the capital to buy. It's all part of BigBrother's plan to subjugate us by controlling, among other things, our food supply...Buy local; grow your own; vote for small govt.

sharon catania
5/11/2012 2:42:40 AM

This is such a frightening time in our lives, especially with the government playing such a dominating role in our lives. Not trying to make this political, BUT it is. Socialism includes government takeover of all farms and/or grabbing land for their agenda, which is controlling all food growth and what is grown, how it's grown and what additives are included. Monsanto is in the running for takeover under the government. They will control the product and the price. We do not need GMO foods. We all need to know what is in all foods. We NEED TO SUPPORT OUR FARMERS.

sandra dyer
5/10/2012 12:50:17 AM

If they were serious about encouraging young farmers they wouldn't be passing legislation that restricts young people from working on family farms. I agree with Robert Lacoe, government is regulating small farmers out of business!

robert lacoe
5/9/2012 1:37:21 PM

I doubt that the addition of younger farmers will ever take place. The Feds and big Ag will not allow it as long as those in power can produce regulations that keep the small producer out of business. With all the talk about sustainability the only thing I see sustainable is the destruction of America, capitalism, and then mankind.

5/3/2012 10:32:56 PM

"One example gaining traction in Farm Bill circles is the Regional Food Hub. This is a centralized facility where local produce and animal products are aggregated, stored, processed, and distributed." As much as this statement might appear to be a good thing in comparison to importing food or large corporations, I believe it is a great evil against the American people and that there is a much simpler plan that is better for the consumer, the farmer, the animals, and the land. That is freedom of contract between the farmer and consumer, where all of the money paid for the food goes straight to the place that is producing it, and that is a freedom that is under attack across America. It's a new old concept: know your farmer. My friend is a small egg producer and he lives in the country and I live in the big city. He brings his eggs to town and along the way also brings in fresh milk, cream, and butter from his neighbor who is an Amish farmer. I've pet the cows, my kids have fed the chickens during farm open houses. That is how it should be and yet the MN Dept of Ag wants to put this man behind bars for over a year because of it; we believe that since this is direct contract between two parties of legal substances there is no need for licensing and regulation and are hoping that food freedom wins, here in MN and in similar cases across the country. Read more at

nancy smith
4/19/2012 2:16:58 AM

Thank for your spotlighting this dire situation. It's time to discuss openly the challenges faced by farmers and the agricultural system in the United States. Nancy

t brandt
4/18/2012 6:37:44 PM

Thanks, MEN for publishing this article to get the discussion going about the impending crisis in American agriculture. With the average age of our farmers ~ 58 yrs and the "death tax" that essentially will take away the family farm as these aging farmers die, more and more of our food production will go to large corporations, not necessarily controlled by Americans. The start up costs to go into commercial ag is staggering: literally millions of dollars to buy land and machinery. Most young people have trouble scraping up a down payment on a house. Govt programs available are mostly burdened with red tape or directed at "social injustice,' limiting their efficacy. We need problem solvers, not problem makers in Washington to work on solutions.

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