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Local

Ag experts coach new farmers at Farmland Access Bootcamp

Aye aye, farmer

What is your dream farm?

That was the first question agricultural experts proposed to a small group of beginning farmers during the Farmland Access Bootcamp on Saturday morning. Spanning much of the afternoon in DMACC Newton Campus, the networking and planning session allowed farmers with less than 10 years of experience a chance to learn about the strategies, tools and resources to successful land access, which coordinators said is one of the biggest barriers facing up-and-coming farmers.

Asking participants to develop a “dream farm” at the start of the meeting helped the team of agricultural experts and strategists fine tune the goals of every farmer. They were told to include any natural and built features onto the dream farm, as well the type of operation and tenure relationship with the property.

Some highlighted their ambitions to own and operate an organic farm. Others wanted to grow their existing farmland and become more sustainable. One person wanted to add hops to their traditional corn and soybean rotation if possible. “Sky’s the limit,” they were told.

Greg Padget, a Next Generation Director of Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI), said many beginning farmers struggle with land access, thus they have a difficult time finding a starting point in their careers. At the bootcamp, Padget offered literature detailing a PFI program called “Find A Farmer.”

According to findafarmer.net, the program helps “maintain family farms and vibrant rural communities by facilitating the transfer of land from one generation to the next.” Those who wish to take part in the initiative can then use the search tool to find landowners or land-seekers that meet their desired characteristics. Padget said this is one of the biggest tools PFI uses.

“We definitely have a demand of people wanting to farm,” Padget said. “People are reaching out to us looking for help to get started. A lot of them are starting something that’s easier to start into, like vegetables. That doesn’t cost as much as going into conventional row crop.”

Sometimes newer farmers are in need of more one-on-one coaching. Kate Edwards does just that as an Iowa Farmland Access Navigator, an occupation produced from a collaboration with PFI and the rural community nonprofit Renewing the Countryside.

Edwards was one of three main teachers at the bootcamp — the others being Jennifer Nelson and Brett Olson. The bootcamp itself originated from an east coast organization called Land For Good, which Edwards said piloted “this idea of working one-on-one with farmers and educating them in an intensive way, specifically about land access.”

From that, she added, the Farmland Access Hub sprouted and was coordinated by Renewing the Countryside, co-founded by Olsen, and is largely driven by the 20 Midwest farming organizations, of which PFI is apart of. Edwards said a need was identified in the region to spread more education and develop opportunities to work more closely with farmers.

“A lot of these things have been out there but not directly or specifically about land access,” Edwards said. “So, this is some new programming specifically for those beginning farmers on the land access piece.”

At the bootcamp, and especially during the introduction exercise, Edwards made sure to use those coaching talents of hers to ask more questions and get a better idea of the ambitions of each farmer in attendance. The event allowed Edwards and the other farming professionals to explain a “broad overview” of land access to those newer farmers.

New farmers, she and Padget explained, are described as those with 0-10 years of farming experience and are not necessarily represented by a singular age group. In fact, the Saturday bootcamp attracted adult farmers of all ages. No matter the age, the struggle is still very much the same.

“It’s anybody that’s decided they want to be a farmer that’s been farming for the past 10 years,” Edwards said.

Padget added, “We even have some second career farmers that come in that are beginning farmers because they’re starting from the same point, learning new skills, trying to find access, trying to find capital and those kinds of things.”

Nelson, who is also a Farmland Access Navigator, said even as more farmland becomes available there are still other difficulties in acquiring it. Specifically, Nelson said capital is a fundamental component but can often lead to complications for newer farmers.

“We provide information on renting and we provide information on buying — and I’ve done both as a farmer,” she said. “Generally speaking when you rent land you can make more money because you don’t have the mortgage to pay. Getting into farming is very capital heavy — you need machinery, you need purchase of land, you need the skills to do it. That piece of it, capital, is really important.”

Maybe all it takes is a teaching session to enable newer farmers’ discovery of useful resources and beneficial tools to accomplish their goals. Goals to create a thriving organic farm that also educates the community on the benefits of such local produce. Goals to maintain a state-of-the-art and sustainable farm. Goals to provide the next big Iowa brewmaster with rows of homegrown hops.

Something farmers thought they could only dream of.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

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