Even with today's sophisticated equipment, the life of a farmer is never easy. Despite technological advances, Arkansas's farm families must still contend with the unpredictable variables of weather, pests, crop yield and commodity prices. Many of those variables were adversely affected by last season's months of extreme drought. We saw that the inherent risks associated with farming require determination, perseverance and a wide range of skills.
More impressive is the fact that many of today's farmers come from families who have worked the same land for generations. The ancestors of today's farmers didn't have the same resources or technology we have today, and still, they made it through the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. When you trace the history of Arkansas's resilient farm families, the stories are truly remarkable.
To acknowledge these families, the Arkansas Agriculture Department last year created the Arkansas Century Farm Program. It is designed to pay tribute to Arkansas families who have owned their farms for at least 100 years. This program reminds all of us how important it is that Arkansas's farming traditions continue to be passed from generation to generation.
According to the USDA, family farms make up more than 96 percent of all agricultural operations in our nation. However, in Arkansas, the average age of a farm's principal owner is now 56 years old. That means many farms will change hands in the next 20 years. In the past, it was safely assumed that ownership would shift to the family's next generation. But these days, the next in line for many farm families lacks either the skills or the desire to carry on the family business.
To give these farm families an extra sense of their importance in our history, the Arkansas Century Farms Program certified 83 farms in its first year. Once again in 2013, farms can apply for this prestigious designation. To qualify, a farm must have been family-owned for a century or more as of December 31st of this year. The line of ownership from the original settler or buyer of the farm may be traced through children, grandchildren, siblings, nephews, nieces, even through marriage and adoption.
At least ten acres of the original land acquisition still need to be part of the farm and make a contribution to the farm's income. Eligible families will receive a personalized metal sign and an official certificate. For more information on the Century Farm Program, call 501-225-1598, or go online to aad.arkansas.gov.
We don't know what the future of agriculture will hold for Arkansas. But we do know that we will depend on the hard work of Arkansas farmers to continue bringing food, fiber and energy to our State, the nation and our world. To the operators of the more than 49,000 farms in our State, I say thank you for the extraordinary job you do from sunrise to sunset. Your families' dedication through generations has strengthened a love of the land, making Arkansas's largest industry one of the best agricultural producers in the modern world.