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Texas Agriculture Is Aging

SAN ANTONIO (AP) - Farming and ranching is attracting fewer young people, leaving policymakers worried on expanding the nation's food supply, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

Attracting the younger generation into domestic food and fiber production "is vital for any Texan who does not want to be dependent on foreign food like we are on foreign oil," Texas Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples said while promoting state assistance for aspiring young farmers.

The most recent data available on the aging of agriculture is the 2007 agricultural census, which predates the epic 2011 drought. It shows that farm operators older than age 65 outnumber those under age 35 by a 6-to-1 ratio.

The average Texas farmer's age in the 2007 agricultural census was almost 59. The San Antonio Express-News reports the only state with older farmers and ranchers was New Mexico, where the age averaged 59.6.

The census showed 914 principal farmers in Texas were younger than 25, less than half from five years earlier. The largest category was Texas farmers 70 and older at 57,227.

Injecting new blood into the agriculture "is one of the biggest challenges we face," Kathleen Merrigan, deputy U.S. agriculture secretary, told the Express-News.

Standing in the way of would-be young farmers and ranchers is the high price of getting started and keeping going, especially the costs of land and equipment, livestock, fertilizer, seed and fuel. According to one USDA report, an asset base of more than $1.9 million was needed to gross $50,000 in farm sales, the usual threshold between profit and loss.

Those who are making it, though, are seeing increasing rewards, said Mark Welch, grain marketing economist for the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

"I think the pendulum is swinging," he said.

Land is growing scarce, though. The United States loses 2 million acres of farm, forest and other undeveloped land each year, including more than 200,000 acres in Texas, according to the Texas Land Conservancy.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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