Who will cultivate the food you eat in the coming decades? The writer Sharon Astyk believes that only a small number of Americans have seriously considered this issue. In his book A Nation of Farmers, he pointed out that even without energy depletion, climate change and social injustice, American society still faces an agricultural population crisis.
As of 2002, the average age of American farmers was close to 56. Among them, the average age of small farmers is over 60 years old, and more than 1/4 of them are over 65 years old, and they are rapidly facing retirement. At the same time, less than 6% of them are less than 35 years old. Some studies also show that most American farmers do not want the next generation to continue farming, so there is almost no successor to American agriculture.
The writer Astek's neighbor John and his wife Allie own a farm. Both husband and wife are in their 50s. Two children are going to college. John and Allie gradually felt unable to manage the farm, and the two children had no intention of returning to the farm to help their parents after graduation. Seeing the farms around closed down, John's children were worried that their own farms would also be doomed.
Such stories are not surprising. Now American farmers are getting older and older, and the United States is facing a demographic disaster. In human history, farmers are basically passed down from generation to generation. In the past 200 years, industrialization has gradually reduced the proportion of agricultural population from 1:2.5 to 1:100. During the period of declining agricultural population, the number of children of farmers was too large, and some people were forced to move from rural areas to urban areas. Generally, there are more children in peasant families, while the population in need of agriculture is getting smaller and smaller. Astek said that the best way is to let a small number of children continue to engage in agricultural production according to the old way of inheritance.
Generally speaking, one third of global carbon emissions are related to agriculture. In the southern hemisphere, most emissions are related to deforestation; In the Northern Hemisphere, most of the emissions are related to the industrialization of agriculture. Due to climate change and energy depletion, people need to replace fossil fuels with renewable resources in agriculture, but this is not easy. Although there are solar powered tractors, they have not been widely used and are very expensive. In the southern hemisphere, biogas and biofuels play an important role in agriculture, but they cannot replace labor.
Astec pointed out that the renewable resource most likely to replace fossil fuels is human labor force, because the labor force is extremely abundant and has the advantage that fossil fuels do not have: smart brain. Astec also calculated that in most low industrialized societies, about 1/3 of the population is related to agriculture, and at least 100 million new farmers, and more young farmers, will be needed in the future.
In addition, cultural change is needed, but the United States is not ready. The Science Blog talks about the importance of science education and advocates educating young people who are ready to devote themselves to science. Astek said that in the coming demographic change, the United States needs more nurses, doctors and elderly care experts, but there is little discussion about the imminent crisis in agriculture, such as how to train young people to grow food. Astec emphasized that agriculture is a highly skilled job and requires various skills. Learning how to farm is no easier than learning many foreign languages. Although it is a lot of fun, it does not reduce the difficulty of understanding the agricultural ecosystem in any way.
Astek said that most farmers in the United States are facing retirement, and the proportion of farmers under the age of 35 is very small. Where will the large number of farmers in the United States come from? This is an unprecedented problem facing the United States, and people have not fully realized the importance of this problem.