ROCKINGHAM — Like everybody else, Richmond County farmers aren’t getting any younger. Their average age was in the high 50s, last time anybody figured it.
But the problems that come with aging are different for them: Who’ll want their land, if anyone? Will their farms have to go to people outside the family? Will new farmers be able to succeed using old implements and tools?
Green Fields Sandhills — a nonprofit agency that promotes and supports agriculture and forestry in Richmond, Moore and Lee counties — will offer a series of transition workshops for farm families in March. Richmond County’s will be 7-9 p.m. March 15, at the Richmond County Extension Office, 123 Caroline St., Rockingham.
“The average age … has continued to go up,” Paige Burns, a horticulture agent with the Richmond County Extension, said Wednesday. “Our farmers are getting older, the next generation is uncertain, and for families who have built up an asset over several generations, this workshop … is a great opportunity for people to get a handle on what they want to do to preserve their assets for future generations.”
Farmers may attent the workshop in their own counties, Burns said. But because they are on different days, leaving the county could be more convenient.
Andrew Branan — an Extension assistant professor at N.C. State University — and Guido van der Hoeven, an Extension specialist and senior lecturer at N.C. State, will discuss retirement-planning tools for farmers and land managers, managing farm-related assets, making decisions as a family and transferring property to non-family members.
The 2012 Census of Agriculture shows that even as the average age of farmers continues to rise — to about 59 — fewer people are taking up farming. That number dropped 20 percent between 2007 and 2012.
Access to land is one of the greatest challenges to farming. North Carolina, for example, has seen a 21.2 percent drop in new farms.
In the Sandhills, Lee and Moore counties face competition for land from exploding development. In Lee County, the main competition comes from nearby Fort Bragg.
Richmond County does not face the same pressures, Burns said, although farmers still can use the information from the scheduled farm transition-planning workshops.
Richmond County has 277 farms, according to the latest figures from the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service. That includes fruit, nut and berry farms; melon, vegetable and potato farms; and chicken and goat farms.