Who Will Farm In The Future?

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Four-year-old Emma is already helping out at Field and Farm Co., doing things like transplanting onions. SNARE FAMILY / FIELD AND FARM CO.

Thanks to Madelyn Beck:

Handing Off: The Reality Of Land Transfer Between Older, Younger Farmers

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This farm near Springfield, Illinois, has been in the Curry family since 1886, though Kim Curry only moved there in 2008 when her father was dying of cancer. She, her sister and her niece grow and sell pigs, piglets, chickens and cows.
CREDIT MADELYN BECK / HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA

As life expectancy increases, farmers are staying in the business, but there’s still a need to plan for what happens when they die. At the same time, young farmers who come from non-farming backgrounds are looking for the space to grow their own careers.

A land transfer may seem simple, but challenges abound: How do retiring farmers connect with beginning farmers? When does a farmer confront death? How can smaller farm organizations fit into the ever-growing 1,000-acre farm scene?

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Formerly a biochemist in Michigan, Curry now works in disability claims for the state of Illinois on top of helping run the family farm. She said dinnertime often comes late, about 8 or 8:30 p.m.
CREDIT MADELYN BECK / HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA

Past the likeness of Western movie icon John Wayne etched in stone, a ways down North John Wayne Road and at the end of a long dirt driveway is Kim Curry’s place. A few of the farm’s seven dogs meander up to the gate to bark at anyone who pulls up, while chickens and occasional escapee piglet scrounge for food around the yard.

The Curry Family Farm is near Springfield, Illinois, but unlike most of that area, it has green, rolling hills, a few creeks and a few ponds. It’s been in the family since 1886.

“It’s just so restful and relaxing out here. We’ll have to show you the pigs,” Curry said. “They’re all eating.”

The 59-year-old lives there with her sister and niece, but the three of them can’t keep up with it all, especially because she has a full-time state job working with disability claims.

So, she is selling about 80 acres, which she said “really has potential with someone with younger, more energy.”

And that’s where it gets tricky for people trying to offload land in Illinois, which doesn’t have an online system like several other states — Iowa, Nebraska and Montana, for example — that specifically links older farmers with newer ones looking for land.

People have to turn to online or newspaper classified ads, or, like Curry, post property on a regional website, like the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service. But it doesn’t doesn’t have many Illinois postings, and she hasn’t had any takers.

Helping hands

The Beginning Farmer Center, which is part of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, runs Ag Link. As Director David Baker explained, the goal is to “try to match up experienced farmers and/or landowners that might not have a successor to their farm business” with beginning farmers.

But he has about 660 young farmers and only 40 to 45 tenured farmers in that database.

“I need more of the farm families to say, we have a legitimate business and we’d like to see it go on in the future, we’d like to support our communities by having this business here, doing business in town,” said Baker, a former farmer himself who rented his property out to a young family…

Read the whole story here.

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