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Preliminary Data Suggests Next Generation of Farmers Struggling to Get on the Land

andrew with tomatoes resizedNewly released data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirms that due to a combination of economic factors, competition for land and changing farmer demographics, the next generation of farmers’ struggle to gain access to farmland is a problem that’s not going away.

The USDA’s 2012 Census of Agriculture’s Preliminary Results released last month shows that the nation’s farmers are continuing to age. Thirty-three percent of farmers nationwide are age 65 and older, with 12 percent of farmers 75 and older. In contrast, only 6 percent of American farmers are below age 35. In New York State the average age of a farmer has increased to 57, nearly 17 years older than the age of the average American worker.

Although the number of young farmers in New York is beginning to rise–increasing by 14 percent between 2007 and 2012–research shows  one of the biggest challenges young farmers face is access to land. Beginning farmers find themselves competing with both existing farmers and real estate developers over a shrinking agricultural land base.

And, millions of acres of farmland in the United States continue to be managed by farmers over 65 that will either transition to the next generation in coming years, or be lost forever to real estate development. Nationwide, an acre of farmland is lost to real estate development every minute of every day. New York alone has lost 452,000 acres of farmland to real estate development since the 1980s. As a result, beginning farmers seeking land are not only competing with established famers, they are also competing with developers who drive the price of land up to levels unattainable for farmers.

In response to such data and recent research, American Farmland Trust (AFT) is working hard to help young farmers in New York put down roots.  Our work includes:

  • training professionals to aid farm families in transferring their farms from one generation to the next and facilitating access to land for the next generation farmers;
  • piloting a regional network to match young farmers searching for land with landowners who are not farmers but want to see their land in agriculture;
  • educating farmers and agricultural landowners about planning for farm transfers, successful farm lease arrangements, and related topics; and
  • researching and reporting on the myriad obstacles faced by the next generation of farmers in launching and sustaining their farm businesses.

Hudson Valley Farmlink Network: Connecting Farmers with Farmland
The Hudson Valley Farmlink Network, a project of AFT, is a partnership of agricultural organizations and land trusts in New York’s Hudson Valley dedicated to facilitating farm transfers and ensuring that farmland is accessible to the next generation of farmers.

Bellvale-Farm resized“Finding the right land to lease is hard,” says Andy Szymanowicz of Sol Flower Farm, who operates a CSA on land he rents in Millerton, New York. “Being young and new you don’t know where to turn or who to ask. And there are a lot of components –tillable soil, access to water, housing–that have to add up in order to create a successful farm business.”

Hudson Valley Farmlink Network partners will connect beginning farmers with owners of agricultural land and provide technical assistance for farmers and land owners, such as helping to facilitate the development of sustainable lease relationships. The partnership will soon be launching Hudson Valley Farmland Finder, a companion searchable website that will have listings of available farmland and farmers looking for land.

Beginning this spring, the Hudson Valley Farmlink Network will host a series of five workshops focused on farmland access and leasing for beginning farmers and landowners, as well as two workshops on farmland transfer and estate planning. The workshops will be held at various key locations throughout the Hudson Valley.  The first workshop will be held April 8:

The Hudson Valley Farmlink Network has received funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Environmental Protection Fund’s New York State Conservation Partnership Program and USDA Risk Management Agency.

Farmland Advisors Gearing Up to Graduate
Cow and boy resizedIn June, the inaugural class will graduate from the new Farmland Advisors program. A project of AFT and Land for GoodFarmland Advisors is a two-year training program for agricultural professionals that is providing 80 participants across New York and New England with progressive learning and networking opportunities, including webinars, a regional conference, and peer-to-peer exchanges about farmland access and farm transfer issues.

“Farmland Advisors training reinforced my personal understanding of how to constructively engage with and support diverse constituencies,” said Kate Sann, Preservation Associate with the Westchester Land Trust.  “When I graduate with this inaugural class, I know that I will be part of a powerful network—folks I will call upon to counsel me as I continue to do this important work.”

Farmland Advisor participants, which include land trust staff, agricultural service providers and other professionals, learned about building relationships with landowners, farmland leases, conservation easements and affordability mechanisms, family and personal issues in estate planning and tax and financial considerations in farm transfers.

Farmland Advisors has been funded by the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Professional Development Program with additional support from the Farm Credit Northeast AgEnhancement Program and New York State Agricultural Mediation Program.

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