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Young farmers face hurdles in getting started

Published on -10/29/2013, 8:38 AM

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Plenty of young people across Kansas are interested in pursuing agricultural careers but face steep hurdles in getting started, something one young farmer can attest to, as he had to get creative to pursue his goal of starting a cattle operation.

Randall Debler grew up on a farm and knew he wanted to get into agriculture, but his family operation wasn't large enough for him to return to after graduating from college, The Topeka Capital-Journal (http://bit.ly/H9FCqT ) reported.

Buying enough land and animals to get started would have cost more than $700,000, he said, so instead he started working with Paul and Nancy Miller, a couple who had the type of operation he wanted -- and nobody in line to take over for them.

The Millers converted their farm, Rock Hill Ranch, into a corporation, which allowed Debler and his wife, Erin, to gradually buy parts of it instead of all at once. The farm is near Alma, about 40 miles west of Topeka.

"My wife and I are buying shares a little at a time," Debler said. "The amount of capital to get started at that size is almost impossible to come by out of college."

A 2011 survey from the National Young Farmer's coalition found 68 percent of the 1,000 farmers who responded said access to land was a big challenge. Even more, 78 percent, said they struggled with a lack of capital, and 40 percent said they had trouble accessing credit.

Debler, who speaks to animal science classes in schools, said he has seen a great deal of interest from young people in farming. He suggests working for an older farmer, or setting up a small side operation while working another job to show they can do good work and are serious about pursuing the profession.

Jeff Sutton, marketing director for the Kansas Farm Bureau, said agriculture is a promising field for young people because of the need to feed a growing population. However, if they don't have a family farm, they may need to work for an older farmer or make arrangements to gradually take over as the owner moves into retirement.

The average farmer's age is 57, according to the young farmer's group, and for every farmer younger than 35 there are now six older than 65.

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