AGRICULTURE Average age of farmers is rising

In Pa., the average age of farmers is 53.
HARRISBURG (AP) -- Samuel Kriebel has been farming as long as he can remember.
These days, the 83-year-old Souderton man admits he is "slowing down a bit." He still takes a tractor out for field work. He still does mechanical work.
"But I can't sling bales of hay anymore," he said. "I've slowed down some. But I haven't stopped."
Clyde McMillen hasn't stopped either. McMillen, 75, of Kissler, still handles the 5:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. feeding of his family's 160 Angus cattle.
In an era when many workers look for early retirement, pursue hobbies or start second careers, Pennsylvania farmers are staying on the job.
The average age of American farmers is 55, up five years from two decades ago, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. In Pennsylvania, the average age of farmers is 53.
As self-employed workers, farmers routinely stay on the job beyond the standard retirement age, sometimes continuing to perform tasks beyond their ability to safely accomplish the work.
Workers older than 55 account for about half of all farming deaths, according to the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences.
But farming is in the blood, says Kriebel. The Montgomery County man, the seventh of 10 generations from his family's 65-acre farm, grows hay and corn.
"I was born and raised here," he said. "I sleep in the same room I was born in."
Kriebel remembers husking corn by hand and using teams of horses to cultivate. He said that his farm, a dairy farm until 1986, was awarded Bicentennial Farm recognition last week because it has been in the same family for two centuries.
Kriebel doesn't know if the next generation will farm or not, so he just keeps working.
"You can farm when you're older," he said. "You just have to take things a little easier. But lots of things are done mechanically today anyhow."
McMillen, who runs a 124-acre beef farm in Perry County, works on his family's eighth-generation farm.
"We raise beef cattle and grow corn, alfalfa and barley," he said. "I like being a farmer, working outside and being my own boss. My son, Clee, runs the farm now, and I help him."
Clee McMillen laughed, saying, "Dad still runs the farm. He's slowed down a little but not much. My heart is on the farm, but that doesn't always pay the bills, so I work off the farm selling feeding, silage and unloading equipment."
He likes working with his father "because we learn from our elders. A lot of people today haven't been through what the older generation has. My wife and I have four children. It's good to have them grow up on a farm."
Young farmers
On the other end of the age scale is John Hess, 34, of Mount Pleasant Township in Adams County.
Hess is one of five owners of a family dairy farming operation that encompasses 1,000 acres and includes 500 Holsteins with a few Brown Swiss.
"My mother, father, sister, brother-in-law and I are partners," he said. "We own 500 acres and rent 500. By being partners, we can take time off sometimes."
Hess finds challenges as a young Pennsylvania farmer.
"Other states are more friendly to agriculture than Pennsylvania," he said. "There needs to be more teeth in zoning laws and less regulations on farmers. When land is sold for housing lots so property values goes to $5,000 to $10,000 an acre, we can't afford to buy land at that price."
Farmers are moving to other states to farm, he said, admitting that "we've even talked about moving to South America because it is more economical to farm there and there are less regulations."
'Never-ending job'
Hess said that his father enrolled the home farm and two other farms in the state Farmland Preservation Program, although one farm the family owns and three they rent are not enrolled.
"We're leaving our options open," he said. "The state doesn't pay enough money for preserved land. We also have problems with the urbanites who move here from the Baltimore or Washington, D.C., areas. They like the open space, then complain when we haul manure. There's more to open space than scenery."
Hess works up to 70 hours a week on the farm, "a never-ending job. We milk at 4 a.m., noon and 8 p.m., and it takes six to seven hours per milking. Someone is working on our farm around the clock."
But, he added, he wouldn't trade his career.
"Before I went into the partnership, I worked for another dairy as a milker and punched a time clock," he said. "I'm glad I'm here. I'm around my parents, my wife and our four kids, ages 2 to 7. It's a great life, and I wouldn't choose any other."

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.