Fewer young people are overcoming the hurdles to becoming a farmer. Farmers are getting older, but unlike in other industries, younger people aren’t replacing them. The average age of a farmer in Illinois is 56. In 2002, over half of Illinois farmers were under 50; by 2011 it was 30 percent, according to University of Illinois Extension. John Schofield, a semi-retired farmer in Roodhouse, says it’s too expensive to get in.
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“I think that’s just about right. We just looked at some farm machinery over here. If you want a tractor, it’s a quarter or a half-million dollars to buy a tractor,” he said. “Who can afford that?” Schofield says he started small with junk equipment, and that’s pretty much what he has now. Beyond the equipment, the up-front cost of buying or leasing land prevents young people from entering this high-capital, low-margin business.