Farmland Access remains a keystone issue for the next generation of farmers in the country and for farming as a whole. In historical terms, the ‘agricultural use value’ and ‘real-estate value’ have never been more polarized. In other words, the value that you can earn from production on the land is far below the value of the land in the marketplace. As a consequence financing of land adds to the the high capital needs of a start-up farm business ( restoring barn, cooling, greenhouses, fencing, pasture upgrades, equipment etc) along with inevitable life and operations costs: healthcare, gasoline, housing. In a cheap-food economy earning enough to pay for these four costs : 1.) land, 2.) infrastructure, 3.) working capital, 4.) living expenses presents a major challenge for new farm operators. Add on to this high perishability, high labor costs, un-predictable weather and a persishable product, you can see why it takes a brave soul to enter agricultural entrepreneurship.
And yet this is exactly what our rural economy needs, more producers operating at an appropriate scale, with the ability to create jobs, care for the soil and water, and produce healthy food for markets, schools, hospitals and distribution networks. We must also rebuild regional infrastructure: cold storage, juice presses, creameries, co-packers, aggregators. These farms produce goods of community value, and as a result to ensure that these farmers can operate we must employ tools which allow the producers both economic opportunity, and the ability to make decisions that are good for the land over the long run.
Each year, a new crop of eager apprentices enter the field, training with experienced mentors, in CRAFT programs, incubator programs, Extension-based farmer training, HMI based business trainings and as farm managers. We have seen an explosion of new farm startups in the last 8 years, but still farmers 65 and older outnumber farmers 35 and younger by a factor of 6: 1. ( USDA census). As a nation, we have an abundance of high quality agricultural land and simply need the best farmers and farming techniques to sustain our lands, and ourselves.