Greg Van Den Berghe
Beginning Farmer Manager
How far would you travel to socialize with other beginning farmers? On a sultry July Saturday evening 37 beginning farmers gathered at a summer social hosted by Jack Davis in Adel, Iowa. Practical Farmers staff member Steve Carlson thought he had the longest distance to attend, because this was a stop on his return from vacationing in Colorado. Humorously, his hopes of winning this record were squashed when the Gee family arrived with their foreign exchange student who flew in from France that morning!. The idea of this gathering wasn’t necessarily who traveled the furthest, although fun facts. This social was intended for beginning farmers from the central Iowa region to get together and socialize!
Socialize they did, along with sharing great food and touring Jack Davis’ farm. Farmers in attendance enjoyed the chance to take a break from the heat and summer work to meet with other local beginners. Farmers came from many different enterprises, raising everything from perennial crops and vegetables to livestock. “It was a really nice break and a bright highlight for me after a rough week.” said Jennifer Miller, vegetable farmer from Waukee, “My only regret is that I could have chatted ALL night.” Dotted throughout the event you could find farmers sharing their ideas, troubles and supporting each other.
The 9th annual Beginning Farmer Retreat took place on February 10th and 11th at Ewalu Retreat Center in Strawberry Point. Seventeen aspiring and beginning farmers came together to build their peer network and strengthen the financial position of their newborn operations. These farmers run a variety of operations, everything from sweet corn and vegetables to pasture raised livestock.
Starting the retreat out Friday afternoon was Cindy Mensen, Ryan Marcus and Sarah Bohnsack of the Farm Service Agency. Together these three led the farmers in learning more about the programs that are available to beginning farmers through the Farm Service Agency. Ryan and Sarah shared tips for how to prepare when meeting with a lender along with key financials to prepare before your visit. They helped the farmers develop a better understanding of what lenders and investors are looking at in a beginning farmer’s balance sheet.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent in two groups. One group focused more on financials, digging deeper into the burning questions they had as they started to draft their business plans. The rest of the group met with Margaret Smith from Iowa State University to dig deeper into their goals. Using the “SMART” method they created goals and mapped out a path to accomplish them. They also discovered that the fireplace room in the basement was quite chilly without a fire.
Last week U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack heard suggestions and challenges from 18 beginning farmers during a roundtable discussion. Eight Practical Farmers of Iowa beginning farmer members attended this event. Here is what they shared.
Beginning Farmers and Land Access
Each beginning farmer around the table had one thing in common – the challenge of accessing land. Some stories were similar, some were unique to the beginner’s situation, but they all expressed the need to make land more accessible for beginners. Kate Edwards, a beginning vegetable farmer near Solon, told the story of her discussion with her neighbor about such challenges, and the changes from when he bought his farm in the 1950’s for $150 per acre. With output prices being similar today as they were then she felt “There is no way I am going to cash-flow my business with those land prices.” With rising land prices beginning farmers can’t afford to purchase farm ground and there is no incentive for existing landowners to sell to them. Secretary Vilsack shared how it is a large income tax burden on landowners to sell land when they are living. He stated, “We need to find a way to incentivize landowners to sell to beginning farmers.”
Cow/calf and row crop farmer Aaron White from Carlisle shared his story about how the Beginning Farmer Tax Credits helped him in securing 150 acres of crop ground to lease. Knowing how valuable this program is, Aaron remarked, “I think it would be a fabulous thing if all states would be able to create land access for their beginning farmers by giving tax credits to landowners.” Continue reading
Are you a beginning farmer setting out to create a successful farm? You probably already know that you need clear goals and passion to make it work. But, without (even with!) keen financial skills and the business know-how, starting a successful farm can be challenging. This is where the Savings Incentive Program can help. The program pairs beginning farmers with experienced farmer mentors; provides targeted learning and peer networking opportunities; offers business planning support and guidance; and gives participants the chance to save money while learning how to build a profitable farm.
This week we opened applications for the 2018 class. Are you interested in being part of this class? This program is competitive, so you’ll want to spend time creating a high-quality application. This fall the Savings Incentive Program Committee will come together to review submitted applications and select the next class. Below are four tips for you to consider when completing your application.
1. What experience do you bring?
Tell us what you’ve done to prepare yourself to farm. A farmer is constantly learning from season to season and having experience will help you take advantage of the benefits of the program. Have you worked with another farmer or on your family farm? Have you studied agriculture or taken workshops to learn new skills? The clearer a picture you can paint for the committee, the better they will understand what you’ve done to prepare to be a successful participant. Continue reading
Aaron White and his wife Dana returned back to Iowa in 2012 to pursue their hand in farming. With both of them growing up around farming, this sounded like a viable option. As Aaron dug into planning and then started putting that planning to the ground, he found that it required more than him and his family to make it happen. As a Practical Farmers of Iowa member he didn’t hesitate to use the resources that were offered to him as both a member and a beginning farmer. In a recent visit with Aaron on his farm, I learned that he couldn’t have done this without some great resources and people by his side.
In searching for some land Aaron logged into the Find a Farmer website and set up an account to find somewhere
to start their new venture. A couple options where available to him, one being out of state and the other located within miles of Dana‘s family farm. So he reached out to Robert Fleming of Carlisle, who had some prairie restoration ground that was available for grazing. Rob knew that animals would need to be part of the cycle in this prairie restoration, but needed someone who could do this. Rob and his wife live out of state and are able to come back to the farm only limited times throughout the year, so managing livestock was not a viable option. Together Rob and Aaron worked out a grazing plan to ensure both of them could reach their goals each year. Aaron is grateful that Rob offers a fee schedule that was based on a price per head per day. This allows him the flexibility and peace of mind to graze as it fit his operation and the land. “When you are paying a flat price per acre you are trying to maximize those dollars to the extent that you risk over-grazing. Having this fee structure eliminates that fear.” Both Aaron and Rob value the land and take great care to ensure it is managed to the best of their abilities.
The government can be a big scary, hairy machine sometimes. But don’t let that fear stop you from taking advantage of great programs that are offered to assist farmers, especially small farmers. Behind each government program there’s a team of people that want to help you succeed. Here are some highlights of different resources that the government is offering you.
Conservation is always on the minds of farmers, much of what farmers do can’t be done without the land. The Natural Resources Conservation Services is here to help you add conservation to your farm. One program that many of our farmers have taken advantage of is EQIP. This is a voluntary conservation program that promotes agricultural production and environmental quality. This program offers financial and technical assistance to install or implement structural and management practices. Wendy Johnson of the Savings Incentive Class of 2015 has recently used EQIP on her farm as she is transiting to organic. Last fall she hosted a field day giving others a chance to see what she has done on her farm. Check out the recap from her field day to learn more.
Another great tool that NRCS has developed is the Conservation Planning Self-Assessment Workbook. This acts as a first step to understanding your land and the conservation practices that may be beneficial to it. The workbook is intended for farmers to complete themselves and use as a tool when starting the conversation with their local NRCS office about conservation for their land. If you have completed this workbook please let us know how it helped you in your conservation planning, check out this short survey to provide your feedback. To learn more about what the NRCS can do for you contact your local office to schedule a visit.
What is the “incentive” part of the Savings Incentive Program? Well it can be many things such as completing a business plan or developing a great network of business and operation advisers. But, overwhelmingly it’s getting your savings doubled upon completion of the program. Each class member stows away an average of $100 per month into a personal savings account and then upon graduation Practical Farmers matches that amount to be used to purchase a long-term asset for their farming operation. This can be up to $2,400 dollars in match towards something that will add value to their operation, $4,800 in total to spend.
This winter our 2015 SIP class finished their requirements and got the green light to spend their “incentive money” and the payout request started to roll into our office. One of the most popular purchases tends to be a tractor. What farm can’t use a tractor, right? This was the natural choice for Tony Thompson of New Family Farm when he decided to purchased a mid-60s AC D15 for his farm. This tractor will complement his AC-G cultivating tractor as his main work horse. He’ll use it to work the soil, plant seeds/transplants and dig potatoes.