Agri-Musings: Who Will Feed Us?

In 2017, CDFA Reported the following:

  • The average age of a California farmer was 56.8 years in 2002 and was 60.1 in 2012.
  • The average California farmer is 1.5 years older than the national average age.
  • In 2002, 61.7% of farmers listed farming as their principle occupation, however, in 2012, only 54.4% considered farming their primary work.

CDFA did not offer explanations for last stat. Do growers need extra-farm work for employer-supplied health insurance? Or because farm profits are not sufficient? Or because farming is no longer a self-sustaining enterprise for smaller growers?

The California Association of Pest Control Advisors Reports Aging Pest Control Advisors

In 2006, Western FarmPress quipped:

“The graying of America is on a collision course with the feeding of America.”

The Western FarmPress article proceeded to discuss the aging of Pest Control Advisors (PCAs) in California. Out of the 3,100 PCAs who were members of the California Association of Pest Control Advisors (CAPCA) in 2006, 40% were older than 55 years old, 35% were 45-55 years old, and only 17% were 44 years or younger.

Today, in 2019, CAPCA claims to have 2,875 sustaining members. The average age is 57 years old.

As PCAs retire, they may continue to work on a part-time contractual basis or they may leave the industry completely. Increasingly, growers, vendors and other companies are having difficulty backfilling jobs vacated by retirees or finding qualified candidates for newly created positions. Over the course of the next few years, the absence of retiring PCAs will be keenly felt as today’s average PCA has worked an average of 30 years as a PCA. Their knowledge and experience is not immediately replaceable.

The Future of Farm Extension

These demographics are mirrored at the University of California. Cooperative Extension Farm Advisors and University Specialists are the researchers who find solutions in order for California’s agriculture to evolve and prosper. Between 2009 and 2012, UCCE lost 86 farm advisors and specialists for a variety of reasons. Twenty-five of those lost positions were scheduled to be replaced in 2013 and 2014. However, in 2013, about 60% of County Farm Advisors and greater than 60% of University Specialists were over age 54; and therefore, losses to retirements are expected to occur on an ongoing and accelerating basis.

As we move into 2019, it is unclear what plans exist for replacing retired Farm Advisors and Specialists. Their losses will acute as fewer resources are dedicated to the research that has resulted in California being one of the largest global agricultural powerhouses.

Johnson, Hans. Many of California’s Highly Educated Workers are Retiring. Public Policy Institute of California. (January 24, 2019)

Office of Public Affairs, CDFA. Farms + Data: Most California Farms are Family-run, and Farmers are Aging. (June 56, 2017)

Cline, Harry. Pest Control Adviser Workforce Aging, Dwindling. Western Farm Press.(October 31, 2006)

PCA Demographic Survey Results. CAPCA Media Kit, Reader Profile/Circulation. (2019)

Omert, Cliff. The Future of Farm Extension. Clients and SureHarvest in the News. SureHarvest. (August 5, 2013).

About Food Insecurity

The US has a great deal of food insecurity, which means that people live in households without consistent access to adequate food.

Millions of Americans continue to worry about the next meal: either because they cannot afford it or because food is not locally available. This article presents alarming facts:

  • Overall, food insecurity ranges from 4-36% by county.
  • Child insecurity ranges from 6-40% by county.
  • However, food insecurity is found everywhere. A county may have high average food security (e.g., Los Angeles County), but have population segments with high rates of food insecurity.
  • Food insecurity is often correlated with other negative indicators such as high unemployment, higher than average poverty rates, and/or lower than average home ownership.
  • In 2016, 25% of the people who were food insecure were unlikely to qualify for most federal nutrient programs.
  • USDA estimates that 41 million people are food insecure.
  • USDA estimates that 13 million children are food insecure.
  • One in eight individuals live in a US household without consistent access to adequate food.
  • One in six children live in a household without consistent access to adequate food.
  • Rural counties are 69% of all US counties but represent 79% of the counties with the highest rates of food insecurity.
  • 85% of counties with high child food insecurity are rural.
  • Rural Insecurity is especially concentrated in the Southern part of the US.
  • Two states that I particularly track are Oklahoma and California. Oklahoma has the 7th highest rate (22.7%) and California has the 20th highest rate (19%) of child food insecurity.
  • $3.00 is the national average meal cost. However, this cost varies across geographies. Some counties have lower average costs. Other counties, which tend to be found in metropolitan areas, have higher meal costs (e.g., average meal costs in Manhattan, New York County, are $5.70).
  • A food secure person is estimated to spend $273 on food per month.
  • There is an increase health issues such as diabetes, obesity, and disabilities in the most food insecure areas.

This article begs a few questions:

  • For example, these statistics were derived when the economy (assessed by traditional measures) is robust; however, what are the projections for food insecurity during an economic downturn?
  • What are the projections for food insecurity if California’s focus on water sustainability results in a decrease in supply or an increase in costs for domestically grown fresh fruits and vegetables?
  • The article is silent about the source of food. Is food security estimated solely on the ability to purchase food? In some areas of the country, particularly in rural areas, people produce their own food or barter for food. It is unclear whether this food source is considered.

Map the Meal, A Report on County and Congressional District Food Insecutiy and County Food Cost in the United States in 2016. Feeding America.