Published Dec 23, 2014

Farm Transfer is an Issue for All Iowans — And a Special Focus at PFI Conference

By Tamsyn Jones

Are you a farmer or member of a farm family facing some difficult farm transfer questions, a landowner with no family to pass your farm on to, or a friend of farmer concerned about the impact of the coming land transition wave? Attend Practical Farmers’ 2015 annual conference (Jan. 23-24 in Ames) and get answers and inspiration to help you plan for the future. The conference is open to everyone (you don’t have to be a PFI member to attend).

Gail Hickenbottom, a friend of farmer from West Des Moines who serves on Practical Farmers’ board of directors, says that farm transfer is an issue all Iowans should care about, whether they farm or not. He shared some of his thoughts on the topic in a recent “Des Moines Register” editorial.

I asked him some additional questions on why farm transfer is such an important topic for PFI and Iowa farmers and citizens to pay attention to, and he shared these additional thoughts:

Gail Hickenbottom

Gail Hickenbottom

The transfer of land is serious business – the business of who will be the landowner(s) for a “little time.” This task of securing a new owner for farmland may be quite simple and quick, or it can take some time before the right owner is uncovered. The hand-over of land is a much deeper transition than just a new owner, for a new owner can set into motion a positive or negative domino effect. Once that land is turned over, the new landlord will make the decisions on how the land will be managed.

That new owner will hopefully  wish to employ approved practices that maximize profits while at the same time keeping the nutrient requirements and biological practices intact. The future management practices selected will have a definite effect on the earth’s plants and animals, as well as air and water quality. Those decisions will also be the ones to maximize or minimize the soil’s uses for future generations. Each parcel of land sold in the future will help to determine the agriculture productivity and profitably, which in turn can make a stronger rural and U.S. economy.

On a much more complex scale, the new owner will help decide the number of individuals that can be employed on the farm. If the farmer can employ numerous individuals, those employees will help their rural community grow to support a vigorous rural atmosphere.

Today, everyone should be concerned with whom the land is transferred to, since land is one of our most precious natural resources. Now, as in the future, the capability of the soils will help determine the successes for generations to come. If the land is turned over to the right individuals, a nurturing environment will be produced which will benefit all humanity.

At an auction when land is sold, that transfer of land has a much bigger result than just “who is the buyer.” In the next 25-30 years, half of all Iowa farmland may have new owners. Those new owners will be the ones deciding which management practices to select, and therefore, those decisions will be the catalysts for which way the domino effect will move.

Practical Farmers’ conference this year puts a special spotlight on farm transfer and farmland ownership topics.

Learn about important farm transition topics you should consider, strategies for starting family dialogue, techniques for expressing your hopes for your farm’s future, and the key role landowners can play when there’s no family to transfer the farm to. Whether you’re a farmer or farm family, a landowner with no heirs or a non-farmer in Iowa with questions about what the coming transfer of land will mean, you’ll find sessions and special events to interest you, including:

  • A pre-conference short course (“Tell Your Story: The Farm Legacy Letter”), on Thursday, Jan. 22, from 1-7 p.m., and Friday, Jan. 23, from 8-11:30 a.m., at Oakwood Road Church, on the south side of Ames. Hear two farmers share their farm legacy letters, then write or record your own letters documenting what matters most about your farm, and discuss ways to use the letters to help guide legal and financial farm transition questions. Note: Sign up soon! The course is limited to 20 participants.
  • A performance of “Map of My Kingdom,” a play about land transition that explores many of the thorny and emotional dimensions of farm transfer. Commissioned by Practical Farmers and written by Iowa playwright Mary Swander, the play tackles tough questions and difficult scenarios, from who will get the farm, to lasting disputes that dissolved family relationships, to peaceful solutions found by others.
  • A follow-up session (“’Map of My Kingdom’: Follow-Up Discussion”) on Saturday, where you can discuss questions and issues that arose from the play.
  • A Saturday morning breakfast session (“Non-Operator Landlords: Increasing Conservation, Helping Beginning Farmers”), where you can take part in discussion while enjoying a free breakfast.
  • An in-depth session (“Farm Transfer with Farming and Non-Farming Heirs”), led by PFI member Cindy Madsen and a lawyer experienced in farm and estate planning, that explores some of the farm transition issues families should consider, including when some children want to farm while others don’t.
  • A session (“Innovative Landowner-Farmer Partnerships”) that explores the key role landowners can play in the success of beginning farmers.

Register online, or see the brochure for more details.