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TAYLORSVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- It's an industry that has struggled to stay on its feet in the U.S., yet thousands of young people are in Louisville this week hoping to make farming a career.
The FFA Convention (formerly the Future Farmers of America) has returned to Louisville for the first time since 2005. 60,000 people came from Alaska to Puerto Rico to attend the week-long convention.
An hour away from the convention, farms line the main road in and out of Fairfield, Ky. While many are still in operation, there are also plenty of decaying barns scattered throughout Spencer and Nelson County. A sign of an industry that all too many have abandoned.
Larry Wilder couldn't convince his three children to take over the family cattle farm, but he says it wasn't because they didn't love it. "When you have children, you have to have that check every Friday, and farming doesn't always work that way."
Wilder has been a dairy farmer his whole life. Just this year he switched to cattle. He said some years are better than others. "2009 was a tough one," he said. "It hurt really bad when they started subsidizing the ethanol plants because so much of my cost was feed...and then we had a drought that year."
Unlike Wilder, Rick Dean of Fairfield Fruit returned to his farming roots later in life. He left his job as a computer engineer, bought 30 acres just outside Fairfield and chose a cost effective method of farming. He doesn't use pesticides or fancy equipment, and his customers pick their own produce.
"If you can get enough picking going on, I can meet my expenses and still be able to get a profit on it," said Dean.
But the money, he admits, isn't always there. Something he wants young farmers attending the FFA convention in Louisville this week to remember.
"I don't think--to be truthful with you--that someone could live off this alone, they would probably have to have a second profession," he said.
Wilder suggests future farmers get an education after high school. He said learn business and finance, and practice managing debt. But ultimately they'll need much more than that.
"You have got to love it, you can't do it for the money. You just have to love it," said Wilder.
Despite the challenges, Dean said he wouldn't trade his career for anything. "I'm glad that I can help people and still help myself as well, and that's probably the biggest motivator," said Dean. "This is the way I want to live my life."