Beginning Farmer Center helps with transition to younger generation
By Jennifer Carrico
Future generations are what will keep agriculture alive. However, often times the future generation in a family isn't interested in farming or there simply isn't anyone to take over the farm. That's when farmers look for another way to keep the legacy alive.
A farm transition specialist with Iowa's Beginning Farmer Center, David Baker works with young people and farmers to help with the transition between generations.
"Our goal is to prepare the next generation of farmers in Iowa. We want to save the family farm and bring people back to the farm," said Baker.
Baker wants to help young people find a place on the farm. That isn't always on their own family farm. He also helps connect young people with farmers who don't have a successor.
Dallas County farmer Matt Pelzer grew up on a farm in northern Iowa. He did grow up farming with his father, but decided to go to college to become an aircraft mechanic.
After college, Pelzer would help a family friend on his farm near Grimes during the day and would work at the Des Moines airport at night.
A couple years ago when the farmer developed some health issues, he approached Pelzer about taking over his part of the farm. Pelzer thought it was a great opportunity for him to get back on the farm since his dad was no longer farming.
"I now farm with his brother and eventually I will farm with his son. We have a great relationship and farm some ground together and some on our own, but we share all the machinery," he explained.
Even though Pelzer knew the farmer he has taken over for before, they looked to Baker for help answering questions and helping with the transition.
"David has given us great ideas how to make the transition work and worked as a mediator to make the whole process go smoothly," he said.
Pelzer said in his case it has been a very easy process since he farms with top-notch people.
"We communicate about what needs done and come up with ways to make everything work on the farm, even during challenging times like we have had with the drought this year," he said.
Baker said he usually connects about 12 farmers with young people each year. In these cases, the farmers don't have a successor and the young people don't have a farm to go back to.
The Beginning Farmer Center was created by the Iowa Legislature in 1994 and is part of Iowa State University Extension. The idea for a Beginning Farmer Center developed from a series of discussions with legislators, Extension personnel, and others concerning what could be done to encourage new farmers. These discussions led to the conclusion that it was necessary to have a center to focus exclusively on the needs and issues facing beginning farmers. It was also determined that this center should facilitate the matching of beginning farmers with existing farmers who wanted to transition their farm businesses to the next generation.
Baker said he not only works with these farmers and young people, but also helps connect them with other programs that can help them on their operation, including helping to find low-interest loans to get started with all the equipment and services needed when farming.
"I work as a facilitator, promoter, and often times a counselor, even though I don't consider myself one of those," he said. "There are a lot of emotions involved in keeping a farm going and it's very important for all parties to be able to communicate their feelings. That's where I come in. Helping these people be successful is very important to me."
The objectives of the center are to coordinate education programs and services for beginning farmer efforts statewide; to assess needs of beginning farmers and retiring farmers; to develop, coordinate, and deliver targeted education to beginning and retiring farm families; and to provide programs and services that develop skills and knowledge in financial management and planning, legal issues, tax laws, technical production and management, leadership, sustainable agriculture, human health and the environment.
Baker said 20 other states have programs similar to Iowa's Beginning Famer Center, but he believes Iowa's is the most successful as many other states often call him with questions about how to handle different situations with their program.
"Some out-of-state farmers even want to be on our list to find a successor," he added. "I look at Iowa as the best place for farming. We have the most productive land and surrounding industries that will help us."
Baker also works with the Farm On program. Farm On is a service to help preserve the family farm business by matching beginning farmers who do not own land, with retiring farmers who do not have heirs to continue the family farm business. Farm On maintains a database of potential beginning farmers and landowners.
"We help young people from 18 to 40 years old find a perfect fit to be able to get into farming if they don't have the resources otherwise available," he said. "This program connects the young people with a farmer who wants to retire in the near future, but doesn't have anyone to continue the farm business."
Baker said the center also sponsors educational meetings for farmers to attend and learn more about succession planning.
"It's sometimes hard for farmers to think outside the box. For them to realize that the farm doesn't just have to be sold if they don't have a successor," he said. "There are opportunities out there to find the right person to take over the farm and keep their family operation going for future generations."
Pelzer said with the help of Baker and his mediation skills, his transition into farming has gone very well. He has aspirations of expanding the farm and some day passing it on to his children.
Jennifer Carrico can be reached by phone at 515-833-2120, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.