For individuals looking to start their own farm or ranch operation, there is a network of state programs that exist designed to help. Headquartered at Iowa State University, the National Farm Transition Network (NFTN) is an umbrella effort for various state programs throughout the U.S. that link farmers who have no returning heirs with beginning farmers looking to enter production agriculture. Some states also offer seminars on succession planning for young people returning to family farms and ranches.

As an example, Iowa’s Beginning Farmer Center (www.extension.iastate.edu/bfc/) was established by the Iowa legislature in 1994 with the aim of encouraging new farmers. Today, they offer two primary programs: the Farm On program matches unrelated parties of retiring and beginning farmers. The AgLink seminar helps guide families with the planning process to transfer the farm to the next generation.

Mike Duffy, an Iowa State University Extension economist, has directed Iowa’s Beginning Farmer Center since it was established and reports that both Farm On and AgLink are making in roads to securing the future of agriculture.

Similar to Iowa’s efforts, Minnesota is reaching out to ag enthusiasts through the Land Stewardship Project’s Farm Beginnings Program now entering it’s tenth year. The program was initiated in 1996 when a group of established farmers were concerned by the number of young people leaving rural areas. “These established farmers wanted to help young people find opportunities in agriculture,” says Karen Stettler, current coordinator of the Minnesota Farm Beginnings Program.

Working with Land Stewardship, a private non-profit membership organization in Minnesota devoted to local, sustainable farming, the Farm Beginnings Program was created as a 10-month course for individuals with a passion for getting started in agriculture. The next Farm Beginnings Programs will start in late October 2006 in Minnesota. One course will headquarter out of Winona, MN, (contact Karen Stettler at 507-523-3366) and the other course will headquarter at Hutchinson, MN (contact Amy Bacigalupo at 320-269-2105).

The course (which has a fee of $1,000) includes seminars – taught by established ag producers – on everything from networking to goal setting and financial planning. Then the course concludes with farm tours, working experiences and one-on-one mentoring between students and producers. Stettler reports that over 260 people have graduated from the first nine classes, with over 60% of those graduates now engaged in agriculture from beef and dairy operations to raising goats and cut flowers.

She reports that Minnesota is also working to pilot Farm Beginnings programs in Illinois, Missouri and Nebraska. The 10-month Nebraska course will also begin in late October, for information call 402-584-2234 or visit http://www.farmbeginnings.org.

To learn more about the National Farm Transition Network and links to the states it has programs in visit:
http://www.farmtransition.org/homepage.html