Shelli Mader: Road to Ranching 2-20-12 | TheFencePost.com

Shelli Mader: Road to Ranching 2-20-12

Shelli Mader
Hays, Kan.

For a beginning farmer or rancher, it’s exciting to hear these stats from the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Neb.:

• Half of all current farmers are likely to retire in the next decade

• U.S. farmers over age 55 control more than half the country’s farmland

But, it’s not so exciting to hear these:

• The number of entry-level farmers has fallen by 30 percent since 1987

• New farmers make up only 10 percent of farmers and ranchers

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So even though there are a lot of farmers and ranchers out there retiring or getting ready to retire, there aren’t many newbies who are getting the opportunity to operate these places. Retirees are either turning their farms over to family members or, more than likely, allowing them to be swallowed up by larger operations or development projects.

Sadly, those retiring farmers out there who do want to keep the small farm tradition and their place alive, often don’t know anyone who wants to take over for them.

The Center for Rural Affairs’ Land Link program is one answer to that problem. The free Land Link matches beginning farmers and ranchers with retiring farmers. It’s kind of like the country version of online dating. Retirees fill out an application about their place and what they look for in a farmer or rancher. Potential operators fill out a separate application explaining their goals, location and experience. Land Link matches these new farmers with the appropriate retiring landowners and works to find a transfer arrangement that benefits both people.

Land Link gives matched pairs advice on things like financing, good stewardship and the appropriate type of transfer for each farm situation. They’ve helped folks with outright sales, installment sales and gradual sales. They have also set up leases, partnerships, trusts and equities.

In addition to the national Land Link, the Center for Rural Affairs website – http://www.CFRA.org – lists a number of state and local organizations which also link landowners with farmers and ranchers. Guidstone, Sustainability Alliance and LandShare Colorado are all Colorado organizations that work to keep small farming alive by matching farms with farmers and ranchers.

Though I haven’t had any experience with Land Link or any local land matching site, I’m excited about the possibilities (especially since these programs are usually free). I encourage you to check out the available farms on the Center For Rural Affairs website and then call or visit the websites of your local land sharing businesses.

Though I didn’t see any available places on Land Link in my part of Kansas, you might find a place in your area. Even if you don’t see anything that fits your situation, you can fill out the Land Link farmer/rancher application and be notified if they have a match for you. These sites keep your information confidential, so it’s safe and easy.

Retiring farmers and ranchers should especially apply to be part of these programs – there are hundreds of farm and ranch kids out there just waiting to be matched!

You can follow Shelli on her blog RoadtoRanching.com.