Cultivating Future Farmers

We all know that farmers work long, hard days. They’re in the field and caring for their livestock from sunup to sundown, and keeping records, placing orders, and responding to emails at night. But farmers don’t only keep long hours, they also have extended careers. More than 60% of farmers are 55 or older while fewer than 10% are under the age of 35. Unless an equal number of new farmers have the tools, land, and skills they need to enter farming—when the current generation of farmers retires and almost 100 million acres of land changes hands—our farmland and food system could be in jeopardy.

Many farmers don’t plan to retire because, to them, farming is not a career, it’s a way of life. Too often, this means there is no plan for retirement or for transferring the farm to the next generation, especially if there are no heirs interested in taking over the farm. Successful transfers can take years and involve professionals such as lawyers, accountants, and land trusts. The best time to take on this work is not at the sunset of a farmer’s career, but when the farm is still bathed with sunny energy.

The good news is that Ohio is ranked sixth in the nation for the number of beginning farmers ready to get on the land, grow healthy food, contribute to our local economies, and work through succession plans with current farmers. This new generation of farmers has, in many cases, spent years working on sustainable farms across the country and wants to come home to Ohio to put down roots.

Beginning farmers, however, face a number of barriers. The biggest challenge for most is accessing land. They are forced to compete with developers and established, large-scale, and subsidy-flush farmers who can outbid those just starting out. Ensuring a future for agriculture means we need to find realistic solutions to preserve farmland and make farming affordable for the next crop of growers.

This spring, Ohio Representatives Susan Manchester (R-84) and John Patterson (D-99) introduced House Bill 183, the Family Farm ReGeneration Act, which would provide tax incentives for existing landowners who transfer land to a beginning farmer. A similar bill was passed in Minnesota two years ago, and hundreds of farm connections have already been made.

Many farm transfers happen as a result of word-of-mouth opportunities, among family members, and in private sales. To bring farm transfers into the light of day for beginning farmers, OEFFA recently created Heartland FarmLink, a free, simple, regularly updated profile listing service for farm owners and those seeking sustainable agriculture land. Heartland FarmLink also includes resources for addressing the legal and financial needs of farmland transfer.

We all deserve a time of rest. As Ohio farmers age, we must work together to afford their farms a new day.

Learn more about OEFFA’s work to help beginning farmers and assist those considering options for farmland transfer at BeginFarming.OEFFA.org. To learn more and show your support for HB 183 and beginning farmers, go to oeffa.salsalabs.org/ffrga-petition.