ELLINGTON & HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — There has been a big increase in the number of young people in Connecticut going into farming, but many more are needed because so many Connecticut farmers are approaching retirement age.
It’s very hard, challenging work and with changing weather and other conditions, beginning farmers need scientific and technical help to keep us all fed. You’ve probably seen the bumper sticker that says; “No farms, no food.” It’s true, and here in Connecticut, thousands of farmers bring a lot to the table.
There are close to 6,000 farms in Connecticut employing nearly 30,000 people. 60 percent of them are dairy farms. The average age of a Connecticut farmer is 59, so there is a drastic need for more young farmers.
27-year-old Seth Bahler is part-owner of Oakridge. With a herd of 4,000, it’s the largest diary farm in Connecticut. Bahler is planning to consolidate the farm’s two milking barns into one large milking center that will also have an education component to help bring more young people to farming.
Bahler says the state and federal government have to help, “They have to create opportunities and they have to be supportive to young people [and] not create too many restrictions because we’re creating food for all the people in the country.”
The biggest Connecticut specialty crop, that is just this week coming to markets and farm stands across the state, is strawberries. “One of our biggest challenges in farming is; there’s always new challenges and it’s constant education,” said Jamie Jones of Jones Family Farms in Shelton, where the strawberries are ready for picking.
Farmers from across the state met with four of Connecticut’s members of Congress Monday to talk about the challenges of new insect pests and plant diseases and the need for more agribusiness education for young Connecticut farmers.
The good news for the farmers is that the U.S. Senate has passed a bill that will provide funding for more agriculture education in Connecticut and other farming states. “The money will go to the local farm service agency and they’ll hire a couple of staff people to go out to young and beginning farmers all across the stat and help them with advice,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a sponsor of the bill.
Farmers also heard today from Acting Deputy U.S. Agriculture Secretary Michael Scuse about help with crop insurance and assistance for veterans that want to go into farming.
There is a bit of spike in the growth of Connecticut farming; the fastest growing part of UConn is the “School of Agriculture.”