- Associated Press - Sunday, March 2, 2014

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) - About 70 percent of U.S. farmland will change hands within the next two decades, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts.

America’s farmers are aging, and with about 52 percent of the country’s land made up of small farms and ranches, it will be up to new generations of farmers to keep the industry growing.

In Acadiana, it has become harder and harder to find young people interested in farming, said Ricky Gonsoulin, Iberia Parish president for the Louisiana Farm Bureau.

“Who could blame them?” he added.

“I am very concerned about the amount of the young people that are getting into agriculture, specifically the row-crop business,” Gonsoulin, 47, said. “Way back when you had several young people getting out of college or trade school and getting into this business to make a living. Now the price and production costs are rising, the commodity prices are falling. It’s a challenge. Your back’s against the wall.”

Gonsoulin’s family has been farming sugar cane for generations, which has put them at an advantage, he said. New farmers just breaking into the business must rely on hefty bank loans to get started.

Longtime rice farmer and Evangeline Parish Farm Bureau president Richard Fontenot, 44, said the cost to start a 1,000-acre row-crop farm, which is a relatively small business, could range from $500,000 to $1 million.

“A new tractor alone costs about $200,000. Pre-owned equipment can cost in the $150,000 range,” Fontenot said.

And that, Gonsoulin said, doesn’t include land.

“If you don’t have a parent or an in-law that is currently farming where you can inherit the farm or agree to terms to buy the farm out, it’s almost impossible to get a loan to go into business as a new farmer,” Gonsoulin said.

C.R. “Rusty” Cloutier, president and CEO of MidSouth Bank, said his company offers loans for agriculture, but seldom gets new farmers.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

In 2003, New Iberia brothers Hugh, 38, Mike and Chris Andre, both 29, set out to begin their sugar cane farming business.

Their family had no background in agriculture, Mike Andre said.

“Our dad worked in the oilfield and our mom is a schoolteacher,” Mike Andre said. “The only farming background that we have is Hugh started farming with his best friend’s daddy when he was real young. When he was 10 years old, he used to go around the farm on a tractor.”

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