Organic Broadcaster

‘Navigators’ help farmers find land to grow

By Jennifer Nelson, MOSES

Access to land continues to be the single largest obstacle for beginning farmers. According to the National Young Farmer Coalition’s 2017 survey of over 3,500 young farmers, it’s also the main reason why farmers quit farming and why aspiring farmers haven’t yet started.

The Land Access Hub is a Renewing the Countryside project in collaboration with MOSES and over 20 other steering committee members working to address the difficult farmland access process for beginning farmers. Funded by a USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development grant, the Land Access Hub uses its wealth of partner connections to link beginning farmers with Land Access Navigators in the Midwest to aid them in their process to purchase or lease land. The program is free for farmers.

Average farmland prices have more than doubled since 2004, making it very difficult for new farmers to finance land using farm business profits alone. Despite challenges for new farmers to buy or rent, land is becoming available, at least in theory; two-thirds of all U.S. farmland will need a new farmer over the next two and a half decades as older farmers retire. (NYFC)

The Land Access Hub includes four Land Access Navigators: Brett Olson, Renewing the Countryside, and Bob Kell, the Main Street Project, are navigators in Minnesota; Kate Edwards, Renewing the Countryside, is the navigator in Iowa; I am the navigator in Wisconsin. We help guide new farmers through the land access process, helping identify action items, and offering education and technical resources.

The large net of community professionals on the steering community supports and often spearheads the process, guiding new farmers to navigators, and filling in with technical and resource assistance. I recently fielded an inquiry on organic farmland lease pricing from a landowner. I called one of the steering committee members. He in turn referred me to his colleague with expertise in agriculture land appraisal who gave me great insight to address the landowner’s question. My new connection also linked me with a larger group of land appraisal experts who will serve as technical support in the future. This is just one of many examples of the benefits of having a large net of community professionals on the steering community.

All the Land Access Navigators bring a different set of skills and experience to the table as we “navigate” clients on the land access path. Drawing on my own experience when buying a farm in western Wisconsin three years ago with USDA Farm Service Agency financing enables me to share, empathize, and access tools and resources to aid clients’ process.

It can be a long process. Identifying viable land options for farmers, then putting the necessary financing in place to secure that land through lease or purchase can take years. So can the relationship-building between incoming and outgoing farmers that is so necessary for successful land transfer.

The Land Access Hub is in its second year, and has a number of in-progress projects that illustrate these points.

Brett Olson has partnered with Katie Kubovcik, a farm education consultant working with Land Access Hub partner Minnesota Food Association (MFA), and the Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC.) They are working to assist a beginning farm rent a pioneering farm business in Minnesota. The available farm property has highly developed infrastructure located in a prime location for markets, and would be nearly impossible for a new farmer to purchase given the high value. Through her work with LEDC, Kubovcik has helped identify a farm family interested in leasing the farm with the option to buy at the end of the lease. Additionally, the interested farmers are currently receiving technical support from partner organization MFA, assistance applying for organic certification for the first time, selling to wholesale accounts, farm business planning, and general connection to resources and education.

Kubovcik, Olson, the current farm owners, potential farm owners, and other technical support folks as needed have met weekly over the last few months to get to know each other, and agree upon lease terms to ensure success for all involved. John Flory, with LEDC, has also supported the process, providing the lease template and business background support. All parties are hopeful to have a working lease agreement, farm appraisal, and everything in place so the new farmers can begin farming at that location in 2019.

Through the established Land Access Hub partner Main Street Project, navigator Bob Kell has worked with a number of successful new farmers acquiring land and establishing farm businesses. One of his clients, Farmer Antonia of Faribault, Minn., is a Latina producer raising free-range chickens using Main Street Project’s regenerative system. She is in the process of finishing the first of two flocks for which she received $15,000 financing from the Grow a Farmer Fund administered by the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. Antonia has been raising chickens with Main Street Project since 2014; this is the first independently financed flock that she has raised. She is helping advance the model for independent producers who can secure long-term land access that enables the establishment of their own poultry operations.

I’m also in the process of meeting with a few farmers regarding their land access process. Most are located in southwestern Wisconsin.

Blue Barrel Produce is a certified organic vegetable farm currently located on rented land in Kieler, Wis. The Conleys want to raise their children on a farm, but need close proximity to a good school district and Kristen’s off-farm job, which provides the family’s health insurance. They grew up livestock farming, and this is the second year of operation of their farm business. They’ve been looking for farmland to purchase for five years, and hope to be farm owners in the next year.

There are so many considerations when making a large purchase. Sometimes the best option is to create a lease that works for both farmer renter and landowner. Especially if you are raising a family while farming, it’s very important to consider the community and all it offers. Blue Barrel Produce and I have a meeting scheduled in early November, when we’ll use a variety of resources to look for farms, plug numbers into the finding-farmland calculator to look at cost considerations, discuss deal makers and breakers, and plan next steps in the process.

Finding farmland to rent or own is a path with many twists and turns. I know from experience—it can be overwhelming to even know where to begin. The Land Access Hub is designed to help beginning farmers navigate their way to success. If you are a farm owner looking to retire, or a new farmer looking to rent or buy land, see www.renewingthecountryside.org/farmlandaccess to connect with the Land Access Navigator services.

Jennifer Nelson is an organic specialist with MOSES.

 

 

From the November | December 2018 Issue

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