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Young farmers gaining ground in Central Pennsylvania counties

Jason Nailor had been around farming all his life. But he went to a trade school to become a computer technician.

After about seven years, the now 32-year-old Cumberland County man saw an opportunity to get into farming. A neighboring dairy farmer was looking to retire six years ago but hadn’t quite decided to give up the farm. He didn’t want to do the labor-intensive milking anymore, Nailor said, just tend the crops and ride the tractor.

Nailor began renting the dairy operation, which today includes 130 head of cattle. In exchange, he gets first crack when the elder farmer decides to sell. The 100-acre Lower Allen Township farm was last assessed at $600,000, after it was put into an agricultural preservation program.

While the number of young farmers like Nailor is declining across the state overall, four Central Pennsylvania counties have seen an increase in the number of farmers younger than 35, including a 66 percent jump in Perry County. Mark O’Neill, media relations director with the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, based in Camp Hill, said it’s a growing trend.

“I think part of it is because of the popular attitude toward growing safe and healthy food,” he said. “But also, this part of Pennsylvania is close to a lot of major metro areas, so there’s a lot of potential customers for products.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden said when she speaks to college students, she learns many of them are exploring farming as a career.

“The thing I really encourage folks to think about is that it’s a business,” she said. “They need to think about a business plan, about marketing.”


Statistics

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The USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service compiles an Ag Census every five years, which includes the number of farmers by age group. Across the state between 2007 and 2012, the number of farmers between 25 and 34 decreased by about 1.65 percent.

However, that same group saw its ranks grow by double-digit percentages in some midstate counties during the same time. For example, in Cumberland County, the number of young farmers went up by about 40 percent.

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