Land Ho!

Farmland - Land Ho!

Matt Wilde
By  Matthew Wilde , Progressive Farmer Crops Editor
Kate Edwards, owner of Wild Woods Farm near Iowa City, Iowa, works part-time as a farmland access navigator. (Progressive Farmer image by Preston Keres)

There is more to buying or renting farmland than signing a contract and writing a check. That's the easy part, explains Pat Dipple, of Muscatine, Iowa.

He and his wife, Katherine, recently purchased their first farm -- 55 acres of crop-, pasture- and timberland -- for $275,000. But, choosing the best financing package and lender to seal the deal economically was daunting, he says.

Luckily, the aspiring farmer says that Kate Edwards, a farmland access navigator, guided him through the process. She's one of nine navigators in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin with The Farmland Access Hub. The regional multiyear project is partly financed by a $600,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program grant. It provides people the strategies, tools and resources to overcome a major impediment to begin farming: land access.

Edwards suggested the Dipples apply for a Direct Farm Ownership Loan through the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA). The FSA financed 100% of the loan at 2.325% for 40 years, which was better than other loan options that would have required a down payment and had higher interest rates.

"The [FSA] paperwork isn't the easiest to decipher. It's like 80-some pages ... (and) pretty intimidating," Dipple explains. "Kate helped me with what I needed to submit and gave me the assurance I was going in the right direction. She had a lot of good advice."

Edwards deciphers the complexities of financing options, lease agreements and zoning regulations, among other things.

"We talk about details someone may not think of if they just jump in and farm," she says. "Almost all the navigators are farmers, which makes a difference. We understand where [beginning] farmers are coming from."

Dipple says the assistance from Edwards helped fulfill his dream of farmland ownership and set in motion the means to acquire more ground someday and farm full time. The 36-year-old has a small cow/calf herd and helps his parents farm, all while working full time as a systems operator for Muscatine Power and Water.

Dipple's plan is to eventually take over his parent's 300-acre row-crop and cattle operation and to add to it. He also plans to always live and work in rural southeast Iowa.

"The land is our contribution to the family [farm] legacy," Dipple says. "As a kid, I didn't think I wanted to farm; but I love it now."

RENEW THE COUNTRYSIDE

The land access project is led by Renewing the Countryside, a Minnesota-based nonprofit organization working to reinvigorate rural America through sustainable and innovative initiatives, in partnership with Practical Farmers of Iowa.

Farmland access is the top barrier beginning farmers face, explains Jan Joannides, Renewing the Countryside executive director. A USDA study supports the claim.

Only 10% of the 911 million acres of land in farms in the contiguous 48 states in 2013 was expected to change owners between 2015 and 2019, USDA data indicates. Sixty percent of those ownership changes were expected to occur through the use of trusts, wills or gifts, and only 21.1 million acres were expected to be sold to a nonrelative of the current owner.

As farms continue to consolidate, and farmers get older -- the average age is 57.5 years old, according to USDA data -- Joannides says it's vital to help more people work the land.

"Our organization is about renewing the countryside," she adds. "We see the importance of small and mid-size towns. The more farmers there are means more kids in the classroom, more people patronizing businesses and more people going to church.

"But, farming is a business, and we want them [beginning farmers] to have a business plan," Joannides continues. "We don't want to just get folks connected with the land but make sure they have a support system to be successful."

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

> Renewing the Countryside: www.gotfarmland.org

> USDA NIFA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program: bit.ly/36ANbq2

> USDA FSA Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Loans: bit.ly/30CjwJb

> Follow Matthew Wilde on Twitter @progressivwilde.

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