The availability of land and farm facilities and overall profitability remain the top challenges of America's young farmers and ranchers. However, they say they also believe they are better off today than five years ago, and they are more optimistic about the future of farming.

Those are just a few of the findings of an informal survey of young U.S. farmers and ranchers, ages 18-35, conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based American Farm Bureau Federation. Overall, the 16th annual survey of participants in organization's Young Farmer & Rancher Program, conducted during their recent annual conference in Baltimore, Md., paints an optimistic future for U.S. agriculture.

"Despite facing some significant challenges, young farmers and ranchers are enthusiastic about the future of agriculture," says Townsend Kyser, American Farm Bureau Young Farmer & Rancher chairman. Kyser is a farmer and catfish producer from Greensboro, Ala.,

Land and facility availability (36 percent) and overall profitability (20 percent) were the two top concerns, according to the survey. Following those were increasing urbanization and loss of farmland (14 percent), government regulations (11 percent), and the availability and costs of health care (10 percent). Land and facility availability and overall profitability also have ranked high in most previous surveys.

Once again, most young farmers and ranchers (83 percent) say they are more optimistic about farming than five years ago. In 2007, 79 percent of those surveyed said they were more optimistic, and the percentage of respondents feeling more optimistic has hovered around 80 percent since 2004. In 2003, 61 percent said they were more optimistic.

When young farmers and ranchers were asked if they feel better off now than five years ago, 90 percent indicated they are better off now. Back in 2000, 70 percent said they were better off than five years previously, the lowest percentage since the survey's inception in 1993.

In addition, 92 percent of today's young farmers and ranchers see themselves remaining in farming for the rest of their lives, and 95 percent would like to see their children follow in their footsteps. Eighty-four percent believe their children will be able to follow them in farming and ranching if they choose to do so.

Most (43 percent) of the individuals surveyed said they got started in farming and ranching as a result of a family partnership, but 30 percent said they started in agriculture on their own, without benefit of family ties.

Two-thirds of survey participants said they believe farm income should come totally from domestic and international markets, while 33 percent said farm income should be supplemented by federal farm program payments. Last year, 63 percent said farm income should come totally from the marketplace, and 79 percent said so in 2006.

For the first time, young farmers and ranchers were asked if state and local issues, such as property taxes, concern them more than federal issues, and 75 percent responded in the affirmative.

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