04 September 2016 - A Challenge for Young Farmers

I spent two days at the Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa last week, and as usual, came away marveling at the size of the equipment, tractors, planters, combines, and the technology that makes the machines so much more productive than when I was a kid on the dairy farm in Wisconsin. Of course, that was eons ago when we farmed with a team of horses pulling a two-row corn planter, a four-foot hay mower, a hay-loader and a corn binder and an oats binder, a silo-filler and a threshing machine shared by a dozen neighbors. Farming was really labor-intensive, and prices for milk and other products sold off our farm were much lower than today.

There is no question that what I saw at the show is absolutely necessary to feed the world’s growing population. But as I looked at the price tag I realized that it is really challenging for a young person to get a start in farming today. That came to mind because of an e-mail I received from a farmer in Pennsylvania who wrote to ask me if I could give him some ideas where he could get the financial backing to go out on his own.

He has worked for a farmer for over a decade who is now retiring and offered to sell the farm to his hired hand. The price tag for the farm was totally out of his reach, he was too old to be eligible for help from the Young Farmer Assistance Program offered by USDA. Did I have any idea where he could go because in addition to the land price, he would also have to buy machinery, and the price tags I saw on the equipment in Boone made his dream look impossible. I suggested he visit a Farm Credit office and some rural banks in his area and maybe, because of his years of experience, he could get some help.

Then, my thoughts went back a decade or more when on Samuelson Sez, I talked about a program that suggested to retiring farm land-owners that if they had no children or heirs that were interested in farming they consider going to an estate planner. Talk about a plan to help a young ‘wantabe’ farmer by constructing a will that provides for your remaining days and makes it affordable for a young farmer to get started on his own.

That would create a real legacy for the farm owner, and help someone who can’t get started in farming if he or she cannot inherit their family farm. There was an organized group that advocated the program, but I guess it didn’t generate much interest. As I am concerned about the future of U.S. agriculture with an aging farmer/rancher population, maybe it is time to give it another try.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.