Land access for beginning farmers

By far, the topic of conversation among beginning farmers is access to land.  I’ve talked to many beginning farmers about this very topic.  How, I am asked, can I obtain access to land?

Before answering that question, we should start with what we know.  According to the Kansas City Federal Reserve, Nebraska agricultural land prices for irrigated land increased 32% and non-irrigated land increased 26.8% from the previous year.  Preliminary data on Nebraska cash rent values as of February 1, 2013 tell the same tale — cash rents are up statewide, depending upon the type of land,  from 19 to 30 percent.  (Keep in mind, however, that the preliminary data is broken down by region so the numbers vary more at that analysis level.)

With the above reality, how to obtain access to land?  I can’t promise the magic bullet, but I do have some ideas:

  • Take a long, hard look at your (proposed) operation and determine how much land you need, not how much land you want.  You may be able to lease smaller parcels and obtain the land your operation needs.  This may also include considerations of geography, i.e. whether you should move if you have the opportunity to secure land.  It will also include considerations of the type of land you need and housing possibilities.
  • Search for internships and other job opportunities to gain experience and network with other producers.  Internships and other opportunities are listed and/or promoted in various locations, including Beginning Farmers.
  • Consider leases, rather than ownership, especially when building your operation.  If you know an operator, present the operator with a business proposal to lease the property.  The proposal can include utilization of programs such as Nebraska’s Beginning Farmer Tax Credit.  More information about the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit is here.
  • There are several land-matching programs out there.  The Center for Rural Affair’s LandLink program is a nation-wide program where land owners with beginning farmers.  The Center also has a comprehensive list of other land-matching programs by state and region.
  • There are websites available which list agricultural land for sale.  A Google search will find numerous resources.
  • Keep in mind various financing strategies, both for your operation and real estate.  The Farm Service Agency has a variety of financing strategies for operating loans to real estate loans.

You don’t have to in your twenties to consider these strategies.  In fact, according to the latest research, many beginning farmers (those with ten years or less experience) are between the ages of 35 and 64.  There is no reason you cannot take some time to consider what you want to farm, how you want to farm, where you want to live, and craft a long-term strategy.

There are a lot of details in this post and Legal Aid of Nebraska is happy to help you with any questions about your particular operation.  Feel free to contact us!

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