With the average age of American farmers on the rise, many are wondering what’s next for older farmers in Virginia.
The numbers are alarming: the average age of a farmer in America is 58.
Federal statistics show that 88-percent of farms are family owned and operated, but they don’t account for the most sales.
Large farming operations account for around two-thirds of all agriculture sales in the United States.
Although many farmers call it quits in their 50’s or 60’s – some continue working.
At his farm in Pulaski County, Bill Ray told WFXR News that he has no plans of slowing down at the age of 79.
The farmer is still able to get around, even with glacoma, a heart condition and issues from Polio as a child.
“I could hay all over Pulaski County,” said Ray. “I’ve been lucky, I do have polio in this arm, but I still have got a lot of strength.”
Ray found some help from AgrAbility Virginia, a program that helps farmers with illnesses, injuries or a disability.
“If you want to do something and you’ve got somebody out there to help you, take advantage of it,” said Ray.
Kirk Ballin and Dr. Kim Niewolny work on the AgrAbility team, which has helped 20 farmers across the commonwealth over the past year.
“Farming is their identity, it’s not just a vocation, not just a job,” said Ballin.
Only 24 states have the AgrAbility program to help farmers.
“Many people don’t know that it’s a federally funded program, but it wouldn’t operate unless the universities and non-profit partners like Easter Seals and Virginia Tech work together,” said Niewolny.
Ray gets around the farm using a golf cart and has found a few tricks to get things done, but it’s not easy.
The biggest struggle is getting into his tractor.
The AgrAbility team stepped in and helped by retrofitting the steps and adding handles inside the tractor.
“It really makes me fell good to get up in that tractor and move out a bail of hay. I guess we know I ain’t quite done yet,” said Ray.
What’s the plan for Bill Ray and his wife Pat?
Their son is not taking over the family farm, so they’ll continue working while they’re able to.
“I’m thankful that I can help him, because when he’s up in that tractor he’s happy,” said Pat Ray.
“I enjoy outside and I enjoyed farming. I love to farm. You think I’d hate it,” said Bill Ray. “Just don’t ever give up. As long as the good Lord is letting you breathe, don’t give up.”
For more information about AgrAbility Virginia call 540-777-2194 or CLICK HERE.