Agriculture & Small Towns Need Beginning Farmers

When you think back 20-30 years, what’s changed about your town? How many young families do you have now compared to then? How many of them farm or ranch? I’m asking to get you to think about how you and your town might begin to change things.

We don’t lack for a desire to farm. The beginning farmer web pages on the Center for Rural Affairs’ website receive over 12,000 visits a month.

Most of these online visitors are looking for information on how to get started or how to do it better. They are also looking for land and financing. Our Land Link program that matches retiring farmers to beginners has over 300 beginners, willing to move most anywhere as long as they can reach their dream of farming.

That’s where you come in. What can you and your community do to help these beginners reach their dreams? A lot is in it for your town. Drawing new folks back helps fill those schools and brings in new leaders and new ideas.

Weldon Sleight, Dean of the University of Nebraska’s College of Technical Agriculture, has said that most people who got into farming did so through some sort of “sweetheart deal.” I know that was true for my Dad. He had no money, but he had a wife and two kids and could think of no bet¬ter way to provide for that family than farming.

He found a farmer and built a relationship. That relationship resulted in a land contract on 40 acres. He eventually owned it, fixed up a falling down house, and made a decent living for our family. A “sweetheart deal.”

Agriculture has changed. Small towns have taken a hit. As one farmer explained it, “It used to be I’d look out at night and see a light coming from two or three other farms. Now it’s just my yard light that’s shining. The other farms have grown into one big one.”

Think about how your town might work together to find some land for a beginner. Can you speak to farmers who are planning on retiring soon about the importance of building your town in this way?

It’s time to have these important conversations. Wouldn’t it be great if the coffee shop talk was “bragging rights” because someone had brought a new farm family to town?