Published Aug 1, 2013

2013 Practical Farmers of Iowa Beginning Farmer Survey

By Luke Gran

Practical Farmers surveys its beginning farmer network regularly to identify their top priorities. We also use this to help find out more about who we serve – those who wish to farm, or are currently farming. The most recent survey summary information is shared below. If you want more information, send Luke Gran an email

Sample size was 330 beginning farmers out of our total network of 1,500. If beginners didn’t have an email addresses, we mailed paper surveys to their home address.

Is our network currently farming? Yes, the majority are currently farming (about 2/3rds or 68%) If they aren’t currently farming, 85.2% plan to farm someday.

32% are NOT currently farming. Of those…

  • 14.8% (18 count) are friends of farmers (non-farmers)
  • 85.2% (104 count) plan to farm

68% ARE currently farming. How long?

  • 65.6% for less than five years
  • 25.2% for five to 10 years
  • 9.2% for more than 10 years

What are the ages of our beginning farmer network? 57% are under 40 years old. 16% are in their forties, and 17% are in their fifties.
% Age Range (years)
3% 17-19
24% 20-29
30% 30-39
16% 40-49
17% 50-59
9% 60-69
2% 70-73

40% of survey respondents were women.

Do our beginners have Business Plans? No, most don’t have one but they want help! The following responses include those not currently farming.
54.9% do not have a plan for their farm business with annual income forecast, and a budget of expenses.
45.1% Yes, I DO!

Of those currently farming:
46% DO NOT have “a plan for your farm business with annual income forecast, and a budget of expenses”
54% DO have “a plan for your farm business with annual income forecast, and a budget of expenses”

Are our beginners engaged in a Succession plan for continuation of a farm business? NO, majority are starting a new business.
55.2% NO, I have started or will start a new business
31.9% Maybe, my family has talked but nothing is set in stone
12.9% YES, the business will continue to the next generation with me as the primary business manager.

Are our beginning farmers in a situation of family land transfer to the next generation? Mostly NO, but a quarter will inherit farmland one day. 1/5th has family with farmland, but they are buying their own different land to farm 1/10th will purchase family farmland one day. 1/20th have purchased family land, and the final 1/20th has inherited family farmland.
No, my family doesn’t own farmland 41.1%
Yes, I will inherit farmland 26.1%
No, my family owns farmland but I am purchasing my own (different) land to farm 20.1%
Yes, I will purchase family farmland 14.0%
Yes, I have purchased family farmland 4.7%
Yes, I have inherited farmland 4.7%

Do beginning farmers in our network need land to farm? Yes and No, about half have the land access they need, the other half are looking for land to rent or purchase.

What are our beginning farmer network’s top priorities? WIDE DIVERSITY, lowest rated average was 2.28 (working with family) out of 5.00, highest rated was production efficiency – 3.19. Different beginning farmer need different things with different urgency/amount of help needed
Here is the ranking scale criteria:
1 – I’ve mastered this, no help needed at all 2 = Little help needed 3 = Some help needed 4 = Lots of help needed 5 = Very important, help needed here first
TOP TEN PRIORITIES of PFI beginning farmers
1. Production efficiency to produce a profit (3.19),
2. Finding land and competing with larger farms, (3.19),
3. Marketing how to sell (3.19),
4. Market Assessment (how many people want what I can produce?) (3.18),
5. Increasing my customers (3.09),
6. Capital Infrastructure Improvements (high tunnels, fencing, livestock facilities) (3.06),
7. Business Plan Development (3.05),
8. Codes and regulations (3.02),
9. Networking (3.01),
10. Pricing my products and Financial Recordkeeping tied for 10th (3.00),