2002 Policy Report.
Reduced profit margins and low commodity prices have forced many to leave farming in the past decade, or rely increasingly on off-farm income, while more attractive opportunities in less volatile industries have deterred many young people from entering the farming profession. Currently, less than half of American farmers list farming as their primary source of income and the average American farmer is now 54.3 years old. The agricultural economy has always been volatile when compared to other industries due to (1) the inability of farmers to readily change production levels, (2) a fixed demand for food regardless of price, and (3) the unpredictability of climate events. But many uniquely modern challenges face U.S. agriculture as well, such as competition from foreign producers in an increasingly global economy, the proliferation of large-scale industrial agriculture, and the rising cost of energy inputs. Naturally, the economic hardships within the agricultural sector have had repercussions throughout Rural America. U.S. agriculture is at a crossroads. The decisions that shape this Farm Bill will determine the course of the agricultural sector for years to come. Although many challenges lie ahead, many new opportunities present themselves as well. Our fossil fuel-based economy, which heats our homes, powers our automobiles, and provides us with an array of products, is ultimately unsustainable in the long-term. But a new sustainable economy is slowly emerging, an economy which will rely increasingly on renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass. Farmers can be at the forefront of this revolution; utilizing the commodities they grow, and even the waste streams they now must dispose of, in innovative new ways to produce power, transportation fuels, and a new generation of biobased products and chemicals. Linking agriculture and renewable energy is key to diversifying our energy market, protecting our environment, and revitalizing rural America ñ truly a ìwin-win-winî opportunity that is good for American farmers and good for the country.