US Farmers Find More Barriers to Agriculture as Environmental Regulations on Growers Increase, Many Have Begun to Rethink Their Futures in Farming

Article excerpt

BIT by imperceptible bit, the United States is raising the barriers to farming.

It takes more money, more land, and more machinery to become a full-time farmer today than it did a generation ago. Bigger environmental challenges - and more-complex regulations - loom on the horizon. Private property rights are slowly slipping away from the farm operator to the larger community, which worries about agricultural pollution and the use of scarce resources.

What does all this mean? The pressures on agriculture will continue, perhaps from a new set of forces.

"I don't think anyone can foresee an end to that trend" for farming, says Lynn Daft, an agricultural consultant based in suburban Washington, D.C. "But it may be for different reasons."

Up to now, policymakers and farm groups have focused on economic pressures. Although these pressures continue to increase, new environmental and natural-resource concerns are moving to the forefront. These new concerns will make farming more complex in the future.

"In a sense, agriculture is just catching up with the rest of industry," says Carl Zulauf, an agricultural economist at Ohio State University. As a steel mill today has to follow regulations on such things as air and water emissions, so the farmer of tomorrow will face such regulations.

Dr. Zulauf says he thinks farmers will adapt to these regulations rather than leave the industry. But others aren't so sure. (See related articles.)

Consider the case of Jim Crane, a Hebron, Ohio, dairy farmer in his mid-20s. Out of his high-school graduating class of roughly 180, only four went into farming. Of those four, Mr. Crane says only he has stayed in farming.

His advantage? His grandfather sold him the farm. Farm prices are so high that it is almost prohibitive for a young person to get into the business today without family help, economists say. The real price of the average US farm has quadrupled since 1950, while the median US house has only doubled during the same period. (See chart)

In Crane's case, his grandfather bought the 160-acre farm in 1940 for $10,000. …