No one would argue that workplace safety is not an important issue. In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) exists soley to keep our nation’s workers safe. Established in 1970, OSHA reports that since its inception, workplace fatalities have decreased 62 percent while the number of U.S. workers has almost doubled in the same time period.

Surprisingly, despite the fact that farming is one of the deadliest professions in the United States, the majority of farms – those with 10 or fewer employees – are not regulated by OSHA. So why are these farms not covered by OSHA rules and regulations?

One reason may be the independent nature of farmers themselves. When OSHA made a move to regulate grain bins, farmers and their representatives were outraged and successfully fought the move.

Senator Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) said at the time that farmers know better than bureaucrats how to keep their employees and families safe. The outcry against the move led OSHA to relent with no further inspections or enforcement actions pending in regard to small farms.

While farmers list several reasons why they don’t want to be regulated by OSHA, that doesn’t mean they are unaware of the dangers they face on the farm. How could they not be when every year thousands of farm workers are injured or die as the result of farm accidents?

Tractors are the greatest danger on the farm, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, claiming approximately 125 lives a year. Other pieces of machinery pose risks to farmers, including combines and hay balers. Grain bins and silos pose significant dangers, as well. Other farm hazards include heatstroke, large livestock, and exposure to chemicals.

According to OSHA, farm workers under the age of 15 and over the age of 65 are at the greatest risk of being injured or killed in a farm accident. Also contributing to fatalities is the fact that hospital and emergency rooms are in most cases a long way from rural areas.

But most farmers look at the dangers they face on the farm in the same way they look at the weather. You can’t control everything. They also believe that it is their job to keep themselves safe and they don’t like people – especially in Washington – telling them how to do that. And perhaps with so many farmers working alongside their parents and children, they consider it an insult that anyone would imply that they don’t care about safety.

Finally, most farmers farm because they like the freedom it offers. And in their minds, this freedom includes the ability to do their job without anyone breathing down their necks.

Imagine meeting a farmer with 12,000 acres of crops who rarely spends time on his tractor. Just a few years ago that would have been unheard of. Today, it’s just another day on the farm.

According to Jeremy Jack, a farmer in Mississippi, gathering and utilizing data and technology is the only way farmers will be able to meet the challenge of feeding the world in the future. While many people agree, they are surprised to learn that such methods are being used right now on a number of farms. That’s because farming technology such as self-driving tractors don’t get a lot of media attention.

In his article To Feed Billions, Farms Are About Data as Much as Dirt, author Christopher Mims reports he also was surprised by what is happening on many farms today.

The cab of one of these self-driving tractors is now so full of screens and tablets that it has come to resemble the cockpit of a passenger jet—an accurate comparison in more ways than one, since perhaps only the airline industry can match farming in the degree to which its vehicles have become automated.

In fact, many tractor manufacturers today have thousands of software writers on staff.

 The result is that [farm equipment manufacturers] aren’t just turning out tractors, combines and trucks that can drive themselves and even each other, automatically coalescing into tight    formations as they cross a farmer’s field, like fighter jets at an air show, they are also turning out wirelessly connected sensors that map every field, as well as planting and spraying machines that can variably apply seed and nutrients to a field, as if they were 20-ton print heads for 3D printers.

While this may shock a lot of people, when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. If farmers are going to feed 10 billion people on perhaps less land and with fewer resources than they have now, they will need to be well prepared. And as is usually the case with farmers, they are prepared sooner rather than later.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the farmers market boom over the past decade may be slowing down – just a bit. The USDA also reports that food sales at local farm stands, markets, and other similar venues are also waning.

The USDA reported in January that food sales at farmers markets dropped one percent from 2007 to 2012 after increasing between 32 to 37 percent from 1997 to 2006. And while the number of farmers markets continues to grow, that growth has slowed down considerably in the past two years, increasing by only two percent.

Despite this trend, the number of farmers selling directly to consumers continues to rise. What’s more, this slight downturn in the popularity of farmers markets may actually be a good thing for farmers. Consumers and farmers list the following upsides to the slowing of the skyrocketing popularity of farmers markets:

  1. Farmers markets aren’t particularly cost-effective. Farmers markets offer slim profit margins, especially when you consider the work it takes to prepare for them. Plus, most farmers would rather be farming, not necessarily marketing their food.
  2. Farmers can make more money when they sell their food directly to schools, grocery stores, or co-ops. This is a win-win situation because it means people still want locally-grown food but are willing to look for it in places other than just farmers markets.
  3. Buying local at bigger stores is now an option for consumers. While everyone would love to buy fresh local food straight from the farm, times are tight. That means many consumers simply can’t afford to pay the premium prices that some farmers markets charge. Whether or not it is true, people perceive that grocery store food is cheaper. Now they are able to get local food at grocery store prices.

As is the case with everything to do with farming, ingenuity is key. Therefore, while farmers markets continue to be popular, most farmers realize that they need to sell their goods in a variety of ways. That means selling delicious, healthy foods to co-ops, big grocery store chains, schools, and, of course, to community members at the local farmers market.

Farming can present a lot of obstacles. Thankfully, most farmers are adept at facing challenges head on and coming out stronger on the other side. It is important to note, however, that this skill takes years to hone.

So what about first-generation farmers who are just starting out and don’t have a strong support system? The following are some of the major challenges young, first-generation farmers list as major obstacles, along with some advice on how to best overcome these obstacles.

Challenge #1: Securing land to farm

The fact is, most farmers inherit land from their parents or grandparents. First-generation farmers, on the other hand, do not have this luxury. While new farmers may not have access to the best land or location, they should take what they can get – even if it miles away from where they had hoped to farm. After they have made some money and gained some experience they can look for greener pastures. They also should consider renting land to farm until they build up the equity to purchase land of their own.

Challenge #2: Large student loans

Young farmers who have accumulated a lot of debt may feel as if they have no other choice but to put off their agricultural dreams until their debt is paid off. Fortunately, there may be hope on the horizon in this regard. The National Coalition of Young Farmers is working to allow full-time farmers to make manageable student loan payments for 10 years, followed by forgiveness of the rest of the debt.

Challenge #3: Startup capital

Like any other new business venture, startup capital is necessary to get a new farming operation off the ground. Thankfully, the USDA and Land Grant system provide a variety of planning resources to assist beginning farmers. Several other nonprofits exist for the same purpose and provide tools and links for young farmers to purchase farmland and equipment.

Challenge #4: Lack of family support

Second and third-generation farmers are fortunate to have strong family and community support when starting out. Not only are their farms located in the center of strong farming communities, they have lots of people who are helping them succeed. A young farmer just starting out in agriculture may have no such support. Therefore, it is important for these young farmers to create their own support system. The National Young Farmers’ Coalition and other agencies and nonprofits offer immeasurable support and encouragement to young farmers. It is just a matter of doing the research and then reaching out to such groups.

Young farmers, unlike many other entrepreneurs, don’t usually go into farming to make the big bucks. Instead, they simply want to make a living farming the land. Thankfully, there are ways to help them do just that!