I have never been a big fan of the online game, Farmville.  I just could never see the attraction to it when I had my own farm right outside.  If I wanted to farm, I just needed to walk outside and go fill up a waterer or muck a pen.  However, somewhere around 60 million Farmville players disagree with me.

Farmville vs. Real Farmers

Farming is not just for the guys anymore

The average farmville player is a 43 year old woman while the average farmer is a 57 year old man.  Only 30% of farmers are women; however, female farmers are the fastest growing subgroup of farmers increasing from 19% in 2002.  Women are now the principal operators of 14% of the nation’s 2.2 million farms, a 29% increase from 2002.

Farmers are old and getting older

The average age of a farmer is, well let’s be honest, it’s old.  Okay, 57 isn’t really that old nowadays, but farming is a tough job and the average age of a farmer is increasing with each year.  Even more worrying is that the number of farmers under 45 years of age has dropped by 14% since the last Farm Census in 2002.

Farming is a hard business for young people to break into.  The price of land is skyrocketing, government red tape is horrendous, equipment is phenomenally expensive (a single tractor could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars) and the fact that 70% of farmers have a second job in order to cover expenses means that the next generation of upcoming farmers wonders why they should work themselves into the ground to provide food for people who aren’t willing to pay enough money to cover the cost of producing it.

Yes, that’s right.  Americans pay the smallest amount of money for food of any country in the world-a measly 10% of their income.  Food is so cheap that the government subsidizes much of it for farmers to even stay in business.  Many farm kids look at their parent’s constant struggle to survive, their harassment by The Powers That Be and the public’s unwillingness to pay a decent price for farm products and decide a desk job in the city is preferable.

Interestingly, young farmers (under 45) farm less land on average, but they also make double the amount of sales of farmers over 65.

Farmers are an endangered species

Farmville has over 60 million virtual farmers farming about 500 million acres of virtual land.  America on the other hand has a measly 2 million farmers farming about 930 million acres of land. American agriculture has become highly efficient, but is also a delicate system that could easily become (and some may argue is already) unbalanced.  The number of farmers has dropped from 90% in 1862 to less than 1% today, yet farmers will need to double food production by 2050 to keep pace with population growth.

There are many “sins” of agriculture in today’s world: the overuse of harmful pesticides and fertilizers, the consolidation of farm ownership by industrial agriculture, the loss of genetic bio-diversity, poor land stewardship, the confined feeding of animals resulting in sickness and pollution, the huge distances food has to be transported to get to stores and the reliance on and abuse of immigrant labor.  While certainly not the only cause of these problems, much of this is caused by too few farmers trying to feed too many people.

Farmers spend a lot more time farming

The average Farmville farmer spends 70 minutes a week “farming.”  It is difficult for me to write a commentary on this statistic as I am too busy laughing at the thought of spending only a bit more than an hour on my farm a week.  Haha!  Around 75% of farmers report spending 10-15 hours or more a day on farm work and I know many, including myself, who have farmed through the night only to start again after a short coffee break the next morning.

Farmers have to deal with reality

I think the biggest difference between Farmville farmers and Real Farmers is that real farmers have to deal with the stress, the exhaustion, the emotional highs and lows, the joys and the sorrows, the life and the death of farming.

Farming on Farmville is a no risk business.  While it’s possible to lose a crop, it’s only because you didn’t pay attention.  There’s no drought, pests, Monsanto lawsuits, or bank foreclosures.  And you can always get your crop back by purchasing an “Unwither.”  Farmville farmers don’t have to worry about overcrowding of animals or its resultant disease and antibiotics use.  Animals don’t get sick or die in Farmville.  They don’t need to be butchered or put down or birthed and your animals will wait for care at your convenience.

But Farmville farmers also don’t get to enjoy hugging a fluffy lamb, making unlikely friends with the bull, enjoying the BBQ after harvest or having the pride of knowing that you produced something real and wonderful.