- Author: Chris M. Webb
Ventura County UCCE Staff Research Associate Maren Mochizuki shares information from a recent conference.
The future of U.S. agriculture depends largely on the ability of new generations to have access to land and training to establish successful farms and ranches. Roughly 70% of U.S. farmland will change hands in the next 20 years and both absentee and investor ownership of farmland are increasing: 88% of farmland owners are not farm operators. The FarmLasts Project, sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture National Research Initiative, held this conference on June 10 and 11 in Denver, Colorado to address barriers to land ownership and transfer of ownership, tenancy, land use and stewardship, and new farmer training.
There were many things to love about this conference. The variety of presenters and attendees was most impressive and really embodied the scope of the issues addressed. I spoke with professors and extension advisors, folks whom I am used to meeting at conferences, but I also talked to lawyers, social venture capitalists, representatives of community development financial institutions (non-profit financing arms of regional banks), legislators, and self-described “policy wonks.” Surely presentations on farmland acquisition and affordability from a land trust director in Vermont, a rural sociologist at Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison, California FarmLink, and a young farmer in southeastern Massachusetts demonstrate both the national impact and universality of farmland loss as well as the partial solutions that have been implemented on a state and regional level.
One of the program highlights was a plenary panel of young farmers. Their stories -- how they became farmers, how they acquired land to farm – were as diverse as their operations. Whether 3-5 acres of vegetables in the Northeast to 400 Angus cows in the Midwest, whether first generation or sixth generation farmer, whether on a 3 year land lease or successfully conducting an intergenerational transfer of ownership via estate and business planning, these farmers were each both inspirational and informative.
The most interesting session I attended was on minority land access. Marsha Goetting, an extension agent with Montana State Univ., has produced fact sheets, news articles, workshops, and a website (montana.edu/indianland) to educate landowners on recent changes in Native American land laws and minimize fractionalization of tribal lands. The North Carolina-based Land Loss Prevention Project (landloss.org), directed by Savi Horne, has a unique mission that includes legal assistance and litigation support, public policy advocacy, and promoting sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship to mitigate the increasing financial distress for limited-resource farmers and landowners, particularly the alarming trend of farms owned by African-Americans. For example, as recently as the 10 year period between 1993 and 2003, the decline in African-American land ownership and farm families was over three times the decline of that for White-owned farms and White farmers.
Other conference bonuses: local and regional suppliers provided produce and meat for our meals, baked goods, and microbrews. Inspiring quotations on the significance of farmland and farming interspersed throughout the conference materials. Please visit the FarmLasts Project (farmlasts.org) to read more about their research findings, policy goals, and recommendations./span>