Beginning Farmers Learn Perspective at PFI Summit

Farmers Learned Perspective and Built Networks at Beginning Farmer Summit

Susan Payne
By  Susan Payne , DTN Social Media and Young Farmer Editor
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Greg Padget, the beginning farmer viability manager at Practical Farmers of Iowa, introduces the Beginning Farmer Summit Monday, Feb. 13, 2023. (DTN Photo by Susan Payne)

An all-ages group of aspiring and beginning farmers Monday gathered for the Beginning Farmer Summit in Ames, Iowa, to learn about marketing plans, enterprise budgeting for decision making, land access and land ownership.

Hosted by Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI), the summit tailored each of its sessions to nurture the various needs of each attendee at their present stage of beginning farming: aspiring, start-up and intermediate.


During the "Getting Ready for Land" session, Iowa Farmland Access navigator Amber Mohr encouraged a small group of growers and farmers aspiring to rent or own land to assess their quality of life and identify their own networks, skills and values that can help facilitate land access decisions.

Iowa Farmland Access navigator and Decorah farmer Hannah Breckbill shared her land-buying journey and the importance of land readiness. Farmers need to consider land access, security, division of rights and responsibilities, affordability, and ways to build and redeem equity, she said.

In 2009, Breckbill, with no expectation she would ever own land, started vegetable farming. After a few years, Breckbill decided her next step would be running her own farm and was offered a leasing opportunity. After a few years of leasing in Minnesota, Breckbill made her way back to Decorah to start Humble Hands Harvest, the next "quality of life" decision that would help lead her to land ownership readiness. Breckbill also decided she wanted to grow her operation, but she didn't want employees, so she found a partner.

"I was still not ready financially to own land," Breckbill said.

During the process of finding a business partner, Breckbill heard about land nearby that was up for auction, but a group of neighbors, motivated by their values, didn't want the land to go to a hog confinement, so they pitched in money to buy the land as a group.

Breckbill, having networked and known many of these neighbors while farming in Decorah, pitched to the group that part of the land would be great for a diversified farm like hers.

They agreed, but it took Breckbill three years to solidify the plan.

"It took three years of negotiating and convincing, and me getting financially ready. First, they transitioned eight acres into my name. Once I had ownership of the eight acres, I could start developing the land, putting in a well, a greenhouse and a yurt which I lived in," Breckbill said.

Through the Saving Incentive Program at PFI, Breckbill was able to purchase the land and watch her farm business grow -- working with her business partner Emily Fagan on developing a perennial polyculture system and incorporating livestock.

"What was necessary changed for Hannah several times," Mohr added.

"For the land each of you are looking for, there's a lot you may want, but there are things you can do without. Is it location? Natural features? Built features? What is necessary? What is desirable? What is optional?" Breckbill asked the group.

In response, Nancy Brannaman, owner of the Lavender Farm at Sutliff in Lisbon, Iowa, offered a question to the land seekers in the group.

"I'm actively involved in our family farm in Illinois and looking for someone to lease my farm in Iowa. One thought that comes to mind, how bad do you want it? How flexible are you? Most everyone is looking for a farm opportunity within a specific geographic location, but that can be limiting. Are you willing to move? Or start leasing in another location while keeping an eye on opportunity that may develop in another region?"

After years of success, Breckbill was able to purchase the remainder of those acres and continue to grow her business.


At the Beginning Farmer Summit, networking was a large focus.

"Networking is one of the important things of getting started in farming. People have less neighbors in rural areas and it's tricky to find someone who can answer questions and relate to what you're doing," said Nick Ohde, the marketing and communication director at PFI.


Many of the speakers offered insight and different perspectives on how to handle marketing.

"I listened to Anna Geyer's session on fundamentals to a marketing plan and someone told her, 'An important part of any marketing plan is knowing who your competitors are.' Anna had a different perspective, although important, she said, 'I like to think about those businesses as people I can collaborate with,' and that shows what a lot of beginning farmers that come to PFI events are interested in -- learning from other businesses and growing the overall number of people that are involved," Ohde said.

Greg Padget, the beginning farmer viability manager, at PFI said the Beginning Farmer Summit is a resource for building community.

"Farming and business planning are heavy things you can't do one without another, but it takes a village to work together in that," Padget said. "There's a lot of diversity in what (attendees) are raising, we're all farmers trying to do the best with the land that we have, our values and visions that work on our farms. We can learn so much from each other, hearing a different perspective from someone in a different stage of farming can help us put our own reality into perspective."

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Susan Payne

Susan Payne
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