Bagley likes it against the odds
BUFFALO JUNCTION, Va. — As a young boy, Wade Bagley grew up in Lunenburg County, Va., reading about and seeing pictures of his great-grandfather, grandfather and father, all farming the land.
While studying agriculture, Bagley said he knew he wanted to accept the challenge of working in agriculture, either on the farm or with an agribusiness company.
“We take for granted outside and get spoiled by what we’ve created in the outside world,” Bagley said. “You may go out and faint in the heat, but it’s not until you actually really get out there, get your hands dirty and realize what an awesome world it is out here.”
He said his forefathers prided themselves for living off the land and feeding families with their own hands. With that picture instilled in his brain, Bagley’s destiny was set.
Bagley isn’t alone but is working against the odds. Data reveals a drop in full-time farmers across the nation, especially among the young. Only 6 percent of farm operators were under the age of 35, with 60 percent between 35 and 64, according to the 2012 USDA Ag Census. Thirty-three percent were 65 or older.
Despite the obstacles in farming, Bagley says it doesn’t deter him from pursuing his agricultural aspirations.
“It’s something about that manual labor mixed with the intellectual concept, the planning and strategizing that farming takes, and the problem solving that I just love,” he said.
For him, the reward outweighs any hard work, whether that’s letting the dirt slip through his fingers tirelessly at the end of day, or letting his fingers do the walking on his keyboard to set up a customer’s new irrigation system.
Bagley currently works as a salesman with Berry Hill Irrigation Inc. in Buffalo Junction, Va., and had previously worked as a garden manager and Community Supported Agriculture manager for Waverly Farms in Burkeville, Va.
Like Bagley, young farmers may choose alternate routes to an agricultural career different than their grandparents or fathers. That is not unusual in today’s agricultural environment.
“A wealth of information is at their fingertips,” says Lindy Tucker, an Extension agent with the Virginia Cooperative Extension service in Lunenburg County, “but sorting through that information and applying it to their enterprise has become the new challenge. I think the pace at which the world is moving has sped up dramatically; and therefore, young producers today have had to think outside the box.”
Tucker said that unique thinking involves finding ways to adapt, learning new technology and figuring out how to become more efficient.
Today’s young farmers may need to envision the entire farm as an ecosystem.
This new attempt is part of viewing the larger picture in today’s agriculture by taking a different approach than generations before them. She says young farmers must seek out new, and perhaps, changing markets to stay on the farm.
Or they can work in agribusiness until they can farm full-time or farm part-time while working off the farm, a way to reduce the expense of starting out in farming.
Tucker says young farmers need to consider the high cost of stepping into farming, strongly evaluating the costs for land, seeds, livestock, equipment, labor, regulations, taxes, insurance and any other expenses in a startup operation.
Bagley earned a two-year associate’s degree in technical studies and agribusiness from Southside Virginia Community College where he learned about creating budgets, figuring out marginal income based on a budget, evaluating efficiency factors, and calculating how much labor is needed to be efficient.
So the startup challenge is instilled in his mind, but for him, the cost of not pursuing his dream is a losing path forward. He prefers to remain positive.
“I like being a part of the 2 percent of us feeding 100 percent of us,” Bagley says.
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