Beginning farmers and ranchers want to view agriculture as a professional career, one that delivers an income and a way of life connected to the land. Too often, beginning farmers feel like agriculture is like entering a maze with lots of dead ends to go down in a quest to find the their way to success.
For beginning farmers who are trying to negotiate the maze, three leading area of focus top their list: one is access to land; two is access to capital; and three access to guidance from someone else who has made it through before.
Land Link is helping beginning farmers, thanks to David Lynch, who happens to be president of Chaffee County Farmers Union and organizer of Guidestone (guidestonecolorado.org), an organization focusing on putting new farmers in business. In the shadow of the Collegiate Peaks, both beginning and experienced farmers are finding common ground up and down the Arkansas River valley.
Rocky Mountain Farmers Union is supporting Land Link initiatives, including the one that Lynch is leading in in the greater Buena Vista region. Lynch, who is director of Colorado Land Link, offers his insights on some of the more common questions asked by beginning farmers and ranchers.
What are the most challenging things
that beginning farmers have to overcome?
A national survey recently conducted by the National Young Farmers Coalition revealed that the two most significant challenges for beginning farmers entering agriculture are:
• Lack of capital
• Access to land
These issues have become significant barriers to the transfer of land into the hands of our next generation of farmers and ranchers. The rising cost of farmland and the availability of farmland have become formidable barriers to starting a farm or ranch enterprise.
Add in the fact that the majority of retiring farmers and ranchers have not developed a succession plan, and it explains the increasing urgency to provide both new and existing farmers and ranchers with tools and services needed to transition Colorado agricultural resources into the hands of the next generation.
What are the “unknowns” about production agriculture
that beginning farmers and ranchers seldom appreciate?
Many aspiring young farmers and ranchers do not recognize what it takes to start and manage an agricultural business. While they may have been involved with farming or ranching and understand the operational side, running a farm or ranch business requires many additional skills that need to be developed. Besides business, financial planning, and marketing expertise, new farmers need to understand farm risk management planning. Additionally there is the personal side of farming that involves lifestyle choices, family goals, and personal attributes that must be addressed.
Colorado Land Link is developing a preplanning and self-assessment course to assist such prospective farmers and ranchers with a step by step process for evaluating their farming aspirations and developing an action plan for starting an agricultural enterprise.
Are career farmers interested in getting the most from selling their land, or in making sure it is kept in agricultural production? How can these two sometimes very different goals find balance?
Many existing farmers and ranchers who have developed a successful family operation over many years take great pride in their agricultural legacy. While most would like to preserve this legacy, the challenge of ensuring a secure retirement and meeting the financial expectations of farm heirs, while at the same time transitioning the farm enterprise and assets to the next generation, is a complex and lengthy process.
Farm succession planning has become a vital tool in organizing a successful transition plan. Both farm succession facilitation services and professional expertise is needed to assist retiring farmers and ranchers to meet their family goals for the future of the farm.
Many farms are handed down to sons and daughters. What happens when there is no “next generation” to take over?
The process of passing the farm business and assets to the next generation is similar whether it be to a farm family member or to a non-family member. One of the goals of Colorado Land Link is to assist retiring farmers and ranchers who do not have a family member interested in taking over the farm, to identify a non-family successor who is qualified to eventually take over the farm operation and enterprise. Additionally, in partnership with Colorado State University Extension’s Building Farmers in the West focus, Colorado Land Link is organizing a certified farm succession coordinator team that can help with the facilitation of the succession planning process.
What has Land Link done so far to help connect beginning and experienced farmers?
Colorado Land Link has established a database that contains a registry of prospective farmer and rancher applicants and an inventory of land listings. Guidestone staff work to screen applicants to ensure that both landowners and new farmers hold similar interests and goals and have the resources and skills to meet each other’s needs. If requested, Land Link provides advisory services to assist the landowner and new farmer with crafting a fair and equitable lease agreement. Additionally, a variety of technical resources are available through Colorado Land Link to provide assistance for evaluating and assessing the potential match.
What is the current status of Land Link,
and where is it going in the next year?
The Land Link database now has over 130 new farmer and rancher applicants, many of whom have considerable experience and knowledge of farming and ranching. Guidestone staff have been working on approximately 15 matches over the past year. Land Link selects new farmer applicants, presents them to the landowner, and helps facilitate the introduction between selected applicants and landowners. Often there is need for consultation to help both parties determine appropriate terms for the lease agreement.
Currently, the number of prospective farmer and rancher applicants outnumbers our land listings by 12 to one. There is a growing need to reach out to existing farmers and ranchers as well as non-farming landowners throughout Colorado to make them aware of the services of the Colorado Land Link program and to procure land listings for the database.
How is Rocky Mountain Farmers Union helping Land Link?
It is anticipated that RMFU may be instrumental in expansion plans for Colorado Land Link. Working with RMFU staff, Guidestone is looking to organize regional committees throughout Colorado that can assist with implementation of Colorado Land Link in their respective regions. A regional coordinator for Land Link activities that works in partnership with Guidestone staff will help to implement on-the-ground connections between aspiring farmers and landholders.
RMFU holds representation on the statewide advisory committee for Colorado Land Link expansion. This team will help to advise on regional committee development, strategic partnerships, selection of technical resources, and regional event planning such as the annual Land Link Forum. RMFU staff is currently working with Guidestone on producing outreach and promotional materials for Colorado Land Link.
The family farm is at stake…
We are at a pivotal point in American agriculture; the family farm is at stake. According to USDA, over 70 percent of family farms will transition in the next 10 years and nearly 400 million acres of farmland will change hands in the next 15 years. Land Link programs around the country have emerged to address the barriers standing in the way of transitioning agricultural land and resources into the hands of our next generation of farmers and ranchers. Guidestone is working diligently with its primary partners, RMFU and the CSU Extension Service’s Building Farmers in the West program, to develop an effective and comprehensive Land Link program for Colorado.