YOUNG FARMERS ARE IMPORTANT TO THE FUTURE OF RURAL COMMUNITIES It is well known that Illinois is experiencing a population exodus. Based on United States Census Bureau data from July 1, 2016, to July 1, 2017, Illinois lost about 33,700 residents, dropping the total population to 12,802,023, the greatest numeric population loss of any state. This is the fourth year in a row that Illinois’ population has decreased.34 One reason people are leaving Illinois is for employment opportunities. Livestock farmers are doing something to benefit Illinois by making a concerted effort to keep young people in our rural communities. Rural communities benefit with young farmers actively involved in local schools, churches, organizations, local governments and more. They are the future leaders who will help address the many challenges being faced by Illinois’ rural areas. LIVESTOCK CREATES OPPORTUNITIES FOR YOUNG PEOPLE IN AGRICULTURE Creating an opportunity for the next generation to take over a business that has been in the family for generations is a dream of many Americans. Many farmers would like to pass their farms on to the next generation and see their family legacy continue. However, it is extremely difficult for a young person to get started in farming due to the large amount of capital needed, tight profit margins and the competitive nature of buying or renting farmland. Livestock helps diversify farms and creates opportunities for sons and daughters to return to the family farm. 27