Thursday, June 02, 2011

Keeping farmland in production

MatthewOver the last six months here at Farm Aid, I've had the pleasure of getting emails from farmers looking for good ideas to help them out on their farm. One of the frequent inquiries is from farm families looking to preserve their family’s farmland by transitioning it to a new farmer. Luckily there are plenty of great organizations that work with farm families to develop a fair and acceptable plan to keep their property in production.

Amanda in Pennsylvania wrote to ask me to connect her to just that sort of organization. Her family has been on the land for four generations. Amanda’s great, great, great grandmother was a homesteader on the property. As the generations passed, the homestead became a business that provided jobs and income for the whole family. As far back as her grandmother can remember the family has raised hogs, grain and mixed vegetables.

Unfortunately, Amanda’s grandmother can no longer operate the farm and she wants to split the farm equally between her six children. All of Amanda’s aunts and uncles know how important it is to keep the land in production, but there are no family members who are interested in running a farm themselves. The family would like to see their soil put to good use, but don’t know how to split the responsibilities for managing the land. Amanda asked me if I could direct her to an organization that could help keep the land in the family and in production by setting up a rental agreement for a new farmer and a legal agreement for the family.

I directed Amanda to two resources: the Farm Aid Farmer Resource Network and The Farmland Information Service. At our Farmer Resource Network, she can use the Network Search Tool to find a land-link or land trust organization that can help her preserve her family’s farmland. The Farmland Information Service is a collaborative effort between the American Farmland Trust and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; it's a clearinghouse for farmland preservation information resources and organizations that help landowners keep their land in production by structuring ownership and operation agreements.

Land link organizations and land trusts work with current farm owners to preserve farmland for the long-term. A typical land-link scenario involves the organization working with farm owners to structure a legal and business agreement that will allow farm owners to rent their land to new farm operators. Land-link organizations might also help find new farmers and work with them to get the farm up and running. With the escalating cost of farmland putting farmland out of reach of many new farmers, these programs are essential to putting new farmers on the land.

Land trusts and land-links are a resource to American farm families. They ensure that valuable farmland is kept in sustainable production and operated by local farm families. Without these groups, many farm families would have to sell their farm to developers or corporate farms that have no ties to the local community.

If you, or someone you know is looking for ideas about how to preserve farmland or to gain access to farmland, check out our Farmer Resource Network Search Tool to find a land preservation resource in your area.

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