Agriculture faces an uncertain future in Oregon and the country at large. Low wages, climate change hazards like smoke and extreme heat, and the relatively high toll farmwork takes on the human body, have led younger people away from farm work.
According to a 2018 report by farm lending group AgAmerica Lending, the average age of farmers in the United States is 59 years old, and farmers under the age of 35 account for just 9% of the labor force.
A 2020 report by supply chain software company GEP Worldwide found stricter immigration policies have made owning a farm less profitable.
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The GEP report recommended farms adopt agrotechnology — including robotics, artificial intelligence and predictive software — to cut costs and increase profits. Recent advances in robotics, along with Oregon universities’ agricultural programs and sustainability incentives have poised Oregon to become an epicenter of robotic farming.
These advancements will not only make farming more efficient, but could also cause farming to be seen as a more appealing career path to students coming out of college.
“It is important we make farm work exciting again. Some people look at farm work and see it as drudgery,” says Praveen Penmetsa, CEO of Monarch Tractors, a California-based company that makes fully electric driver-optional tractors. “It’s a lot more exciting to become a fleet operator and get to work with the latest technology.”