Today’s young farmers and ranchers are optimistic about the future of agriculture, despite the challenges they face.

That’s according to an informal survey of participants in the annual American Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmer and Rancher Conference, held earlier this year.

Young farmers in Virginia feel the same as those across the nation: The future looks bright, but there are a few obstacles.

“Our biggest concern is the land base,” said Scott Sink, chairman of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmer Committee and president of the Franklin County Farm Bureau. “One of the largest tracts we have rented right now may be sold in the next few years, and I don’t know where we’re going to find more land.”

He added that elimination of the capital gains tax would enable older farmers to sell land to younger farmers without being penalized.

“Land is getting harder and harder to find,” said Scott Boyles, vice-chairman of the Young Farmer Committee and a Grayson County beef producer. “Everything’s getting urbanized.”

Higher input costs such as those for fuel and fertilizer also weigh heavily on the minds of Virginia farmers, as do surging commodity prices. The high prices for corn and wheat help growers but hurt livestock producers, said Sink, who grows vegetables and hay and raises beef cattle.

However, Sink said he is optimistic that, by taking advantage of niche markets, agriculture will thrive well into the future.

One thing the government could do to help young farmers is offer crop insurance for niche crops such as fruits, he said. He diversified his operation several years ago by growing strawberries, but he lost the crop and had no insurance on it; he lost about $10,000.

Boyles agreed that diversifying a farming operation is the wave of the future.

“I’m going to grow pumpkins and sweet corn this year,” he said. “You can’t just do one thing anymore.

“But I believe there are lots of opportunities out there for young farmers,” he added. “And I plan to farm until the day I die.”