Farmers aging as big agriculture gets bigger - KSFY News - Sioux Falls, SD News, Weather, Sports

Farmers aging as big agriculture gets bigger

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It's a flip book of nostalgia. A 1923 two-cylinder morphs into a 1972 Generation II, and as the decades pass the big green machines become more powerful and productive.

"Well, now you have GPS and auto steer which helps a lot, especially at night when it's dark and dusty and you can't see," said Dalton Gath.

A fourth generation family farm, the Gaths, like these powerful John Deeres, refuse to put the pedal down.

"When I was a little boy my dad was successful at what he did. I used to look at him and say you know what I want to do what he does, but I want to do it better. And, I want to do more of it," said Mark Gath.

More is thousands of acres of land in South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa.

"I love it. I truly do. If you don't love what you do you're not going to be any good at it," said Mark.

That sort of commitment is what farmers must have in order to make money today. Getting into agriculture takes an enormous amount of cash, land, and capital.

"Number one you better love it, deeply and passionately. Number two either have family involved in the operation which helps tremendously or win the Powerball and then farm," Mark said while laughing.

His two sons, Dalton and Stetson, saw his success at an early age. They're proud to have farming pumping through their veins.

"You don't want to let your family down," said Dalton.

Young men like Dalton and Stetson are essential to the farming industry. A 2007 census of the American farm workforce raised cause for concern. In that year, the average American farmer was 57 years old.

"I'm not really worried about it, because I see that as a potential for growth with all these older guys that might be retiring in the coming years. I look at that as opportunity," said Dalton.

But, that opportunity comes at a price. Land prices near this piece of farmland in southwest Minnesota are running ten thousands dollars or more per acre.

"The capital that's required is beyond the reach of most individuals anymore," said Mark.

Plus, big pieces of machinery like a 32-row planter cost $250,000 and more.

That's why the Gaths have rethought what it means to run a family farm.

"The family farm thrives as long as the business side of the farming operation continues to thrive."

And, when the business thrives it can sprout into big bucks. In 2013 the net income from U.S. farms was expected to reach a record $131 billion.

"It's a great pride and joy to be doing it," said Stetson Gath. "Knowing that your corn or beans are going somewhere to a cow and that's going on a plate."

With so much to consider, including the always looming mother nature.

"She can be an animal. She can. Some days it's great and some days it's cold and damp and wet and you can't get anything done. Our business is all outdoors when you crop farm. She can be tough, but she can be very beautiful too," said Mark.

Farming isn't the industry our grandfathers knew. It still takes an endless love and commitment, but it also takes a whole lot of capital.

"Hopefully, some day I can pass it on to a fifth generation and keep it going from there."

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