As land prices continue to rise, it becomes harder and harder for farmers, especially beginning farmers, to buy the ground to start, or grow, their farming dreams.
“A survey by the National Young Farmers Coalition showed that 59% of beginning farmers said finding land was the No. 1 challenge,” said Nathan Aaberg, Illinois FarmLink director for The Land Connection.
Land accessibility is a challenge for all farmers and particularly those just starting out, he said.
“If it is too hard for beginning farmers to access land, Illinois agriculture will have a problem down the road,” Aaberg said.
With that in mind, The Land Connection is introducing FarmLink, a new statewide program to help connect people looking for land with like-minded landholders, Aaberg said.
When the new FarmLink website is fully functioning later this month, it will help farmers and landowners find each other by sharing comprehensive profiles.
In the meantime, three staff members are already offering advice and supplying resources through The Land Connection. People can call 217-840-2128 for a consultation on the strategy for obtaining the land they want, he said.
Advisory services might help a farmer negotiate a lease or find the amount and form of financing that would work best for their particular situation.
“It’s not just the land but how the land fits into your whole life,” he said.
It’s important to get the acreage and price right, but the land must also meet other criteria. It may need to be near a spouse’s job, a child’s school, or fit into other quality-of-life needs, he said.
In addition to finding accessible land, it may be difficult to find land well-suited to the kind of production a farmer wants. A farmer may need fencing for cattle or proximity to irrigation. And some landowners are looking to help give young farmers a start, if they can find the right match for their specific land.
FarmLink will have filtering searches allowing the farmer to narrow parameters. A young farmer may post specifics like “looking for less than 100 acres of grazing land in Jackson County.” At the same time, a landowner might want livestock on the land to benefit the soil and to match their sustainability goals or farming philosophy.
It will take a little while before there is a variety of land in every county on the website, Aaberg said.
This program furthers The Land Connection’s mission “to protect and enhance farmland” for generations to come. The Land Connection also offers training in restorative farming techniques and informs the public about the sources of healthy food.
Liberty Prairie Foundation started FarmLink initially in northeast Illinois, and The Land Connection is expanding it across the state, Aaberg said.
In addition to linking farmers and landowners and offering personal advisory services, FarmLink will provide educational opportunities. Training might include how to work with geographic information systems (GIS) to access data about a specific plot of land including information about taxes, topography and the last selling price.
Eventually, the hope is to bring people and organizations together to develop solutions to land access problems.
“We are stronger together and can provide better services,” Aaberg said of future collaboration. “We can do more together than by ourselves.”