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).