Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Iowa's Young Farmers

I must admit that I am appreciating the issues of the "Farm Bureau Spokesman" that my father-in-law has been saving for me. They have provided a lot of thought provoking reading ... some of it good and some of it bad. This week I'm going to post about a couple of articles I read in the February 13, 2008 issue of the Spokesman. I want to kick it off with some thoughts on the front page article titled, "Iowa's young farmers take on new set of challenges".

Much of the article deals with the recent "Iowa Farm Bureau Young Farmer Conference" that was recently held in our state capital. I was pretty excited to read that over 200 young farmers under the age of 35 attended this conference, and I also decided maybe I should join the Farm Bureau so I can attend a conference like this! The conference gave young farmers the opportunity to hear from experts on farm business planning and also allowed the to network with other young farmers across the state.

I know that I said I was excited to hear that so many were attending, but to be completely honest I was also a little discouraged. When I read that number I just figure it means that there are 200 farmers out there that are ahead of me in the game and maybe there won't be room for me. So, the article got me thinking about how big the market is for the type of farming that I desire to do.

We are fortunate that we live within 45 minutes of the biggest city in Iowa, but it is also a city with multiple thriving farmer's markets and local restaurants that have offering locally grown and raised food. So, is there room for another grassfed beef, pastured poultry and egg, pastured pig, and downright diverse small scale farm in our area? That is the question that was on my mind as I read this article.

In the article they highlighted three families. One family raised niche pork that they then sold to Niman Ranch for distribution. They don't raise their pigs in a confinement building, but they probably don't raise them out on pasture or in the woodlot either. Another family mentioned in the article runs a wean-to-finish hog farm. The final family that was written about isn't evening farming yet, but they have aspirations to begin soon (hmmm... that sounds familiar). So, is there room for me?

First of all I'm not sure how many of the farmers at the Farm Bureau conference would be in competition with a direct market farm, so maybe I'm just over reacting. Also, I feel strongly that the market for direct from the farm meat and produce is only going to keep growing as instances like this weeks USDA beef recall and other ag-related catastrophes happen. Most importantly though, I think I need to spend some time researching exactly what is missing in the markets around us. What are people needing? Is there room for more eggs or chicken? Can I combine a seed stock Dexter operation with a Dexter beef operation?

These are the sorts of things on my alarmist mind after reading the article... How much room for growth do you think there is in the direct from the farmer world? I would love to hear your thoughts!

On a side note there was one other thing that really hit me after reading the article. Check out this quote from young farmer Val Plagge, "I'd say for most the people here, land availability is the biggest issue. You're going to hear that from every person." So true ... so true ... Because of the Ethanol industry in Iowa land is becoming more and more difficult to come buy, especially for a beginning farmer starting out with nothing. In fact land is even becoming difficult to rent. One younger farmer they interviewed mentioned that he has seen people offering $400 for cash rent ... per acre! That is off the chart and immediately prices out young farmers. So, the land issue is something I can identify with!


Steven said...

We're going to have to rent our land from my Uncles and Dad until someday we inherit it(a quarter of it). I was wondering what farm ground (corn, soy, wheat), and then also pasture ground rents for in different places in the country. Our agreement was to pay the same that we were profiting from our renter that does grain... so it's expensive, but not 400!

Rich said...

In Oklahoma, Sections 16 and 36 of each Township were set aside to be used by the local and state school districts to generate income for the schools. The "School Land Trust," is an Oklahoma State Agency created to administer the school land trust funds.

Some of the Sections have been sold to private landowners, but a number of the sections are still administered by the School Land Trust, and are offered for agricultural leases every five years.

For a number of years I have noted which parcels are available for lease in my area, what the minimum bids were, and what the final bids were. Usually the minimum and final bids work out to be about $25-30 per acre per year for cropland, and $12-15 per acre per year for pasture. This an area of primarily wheat farming and cattle.

If you are interested detailed results for each county can be found at:

I've always thought that leasing one of these properties might be a good way for someone to start a grazing operation.

A similar program might be available in other states.

Ethan Book said...

Steven - I don't know about that $400 number, but it was in the article ... In reality I looked at a piece of crop land just outside of town that was rented last year for $200 per acre and this year the owner was going to ask $250! I thought that was a pretty big price. Pasture ground .. I don't know I have heard of $40 per acre and up...

Steven said...

What we figured was the average of the last 5 years of profit from grain. We came up with 127 and my uncle said so..... 130. lol I don't know why a family member should pay 3 bucks more, but I'm sure this year it will profit more than the last 5 averaged.

I have heard rumors of people cash renting for 200 near here, but I know that just north of here people are cash renting for 140.

Yeoman said...

Rich, most Western states have "school sections". These are typically leased to ranchers and farmers, but normally the leases are preferential. That is, the current leaseholder has the first right to renew the lease, so only rarely do they become available.

This is as it should be. As they're part of ongoing operations, if they were thrown open to generally bidding every few years, it'd cause chaos to agricultural operations using them. Also, in those rare instances when they are thrown open to general bidding, they tend to fall prey to enemies of agriculture, who want to keep ag interests out.

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