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The average age of a California farmer is 59.

Who will grow our food when they retire?

A farmer goes in search of a successor in Nevada County


Note: This story is part of the “Graying in California” series from the California Dream Project. To view all of the stories, click here

As a generational wave of farmers in California enters retirement age, these growers and ranchers face difficult choices about what to do with their farms and how to support themselves as they age.

There is no “cookie-cutter formula” for farmers navigating this chapter, said Rod Carter, an expert in land succession planning who has advised California farmers for several decades.

“The only thing I can tell you (is that) out of 300-plus families I’ve worked with here in California on this particular topic, none of them are the same,” Carter said.

In 2017, the average age of California farmers rose to 59, according to the most recent USDA Census of Agriculture. The national average is 57.5 years old, up from 56.3 years old in 2012. More than a third of U.S. farmers are 65 or older.

While each case is unique, there are common factors at play, such as personal health, the type, scale and viability of the business, the market, and the multi-generational needs of the family, Carter said.

In the case of Riverhill Farm in Nevada County, business succession planning didn’t involve younger family members.

Until about a year ago, Alan Haight and Jo McProud, both 62, were still actively planting and tending organic produce on seven acres of flattish land nestled below a ridge in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Farm succession was on Haight’s mind from the very beginning, he said.

“I started [the farm] with the intention that it would survive my ability to farm,” Haight said. “Farms aren’t common in this area, and so when someone undertakes to build a farm, that’s a tremendous investment of time and effort. There’s a lot at stake for community in that farm surviving.”

To continue reading the article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, click here.

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