By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN

Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan sees an epidemic of sorts sweeping across America's farmland.

The country's farmers and ranchers are getting older and there are fewer people standing in line to take their place.

New Mexico has the highest average age of farmers and ranchers of any state at nearly 60 years old, and neighboring Arizona and Texas aren't far behind. Nationally, the latest agricultural census figures show the fastest growing group of farmers and ranchers are those over age 65.

Merrigan is making stops at universities around the country in hopes of encouraging more students to think about agricultural careers.

She was in New Mexico and Arizona last week. This week, she has stops planned at the University of Colorado in Denver and Michigan State University.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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