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WASHBURN, N.D. — Joseph Sheldon had a good job — an agricultural engineer for Caterpillar in Plymouth, Minn., part of the Twin Cities area — but he really wasn’t happy.

“I tried the big-city life and realized I just wasn’t cut out for it. So I was drawn back here,” says Sheldon, who in 2011 returned to his hometown of Washburn to begin farming with his family.

Sheldon, now 33, isn’t alone. Washburn, north of Bismarck, N.D., and south of Minot, N.D., has seen an infusion of young farmers and young farm families in recent years. By one estimate, 20 people have returned to Washburn since 2011 because of farming.

An influx of young blood is particularly important in farming. The average age of the principal U.S. farm operator (the farmer who makes day-to-day decisions) is 58.3, and the average age of the principal North Dakota farm operator is 57. Those are 2012 numbers, the last year for which statistics from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are available.

In contrast, thanks to the arrival of the young farmers, the average age of Washburn area farmers is 50 to 55, estimates Tana Larsen, Washburn’s economic development and marketing director.

A Washburn farm kid herself, she moved away for 18 years before returning eight years ago, in part to raise her two daughters here. She has relatives who farm, as well as many other connections to the community’s farm community.

Darrell Scheresky, Washburn location manager for Dakota Agronomy Partners, also recognizes and welcomes the infusion of young farmers and their families.

“Through the decades, we’ve seen the (farmer) retirements and farms merging and that’s a little depressing,” says Scheresky, who’s been in Washburn 18 years. “But in the last few years we’ve got a fairly good number of younger guys who have heavily involved in farming and doing a good job.”

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