I always enjoy learning how farm operators answered the questionnaire for the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll. The highlights of the 2009 poll were recently released and looked at the topics of farm succession, their children's career paths, their own decision to farm, and the different programs for beginning farmers. This annual survey has been conducted annually since 1982 using basically the same set of questions every two years. For the 2009 poll, 1,268 farmers responded to the survey.
The farm population is aging nationwide, and Iowa farmers are no exception. As more farmŽers approach or reach retirement age, quesŽtions about retirement and farm succession plans increase in importance. Last year's poll found that 42 percent of farmers planned to retire in the next five years. Among those farmers who planned to retire, only 56 percent had identified a successor.
Farmers were asked if they had adult children, and whether or not any of those children were farmers. Seventy-three percent of respondents indicated that they had adult children over 18 and not in school. Among those farmers who had adult children, 33% had at least one child who was currently farming. Of those, 10% had multiple children who were farmŽers. Twenty-seven percent had at least one son who farmed and 11 percent had at least one daughter who farmed. The 735 farmers who were over 55--approaching retirement age--had 350 children who farmed, a proportion (48%) that represents less than half of the number that will be needed to replace the curŽrent generation of farmers as they retire.
Participants were asked about the motivations that had factored into their chilŽdren's decisions to enter farming. The motivation that received the highest rating was love of farming, with 80 percent of farmŽers indicating that it was either important or very important in their children's decisions to become farmers. Following in imporŽtance were quality of life considerations and having grown up wanting to farm. Seventy-two percent of farmers rated these factors as having been important or very important criteria in their children's decisions to farm. Ability to be their own boss (68%), desire to stay close to home (56%), desire to carry on family tradition (55%), and family ability to help get them started (55%) were also rated as important or very important by a majority of Farm Poll participants. Taken together, these responses indicate that parents of children who farm believe that culŽtural and lifestyle factors weighed more heavily in their children's decisions to farm than did economic criteria.
Having examined some of the reasons that inŽfluenced children's choice to farm, how about the children who decided not to farm? Farm Poll participants with adult children who had not enŽtered farming were asked to rate the importance of factors that may have motivated their children to select another occupation over farming. In contrast to the factors influencing the deciŽsion to farm, most of the reasons that were rated as most important in the choice of a non-farm career were economic. The dominant reason, by far, was that other occupations provided better income. Seventy-five percent of farmers indicated that this reason had been either important or very important in shaping their children's decisions to go into a field other than farming. Following in importance were inability to afford the necessary equipment, land, livestock, and other factors of production (52%), high land rents (50%), high risk (45%), and low farm profŽits (43%). Among non-economic reasons, 46 percent of farmers believed that lack of interest in farming was either important or very important in their children's decision- making processes. Thirty-nine percent cited lack of interest on behalf of their children's spouses as having played an important or very important role.
Next week in Extension Lines, we will continue to share the results of the 2009 poll. As with all surveys, consider the 2009 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll as a "snapshot" of the moment in time. To review the entire report, go to: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/Publica...