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Navigating the Next Chapter in a Farm’s Future
Ohio Ag Connection - 02/27/2024

When a farmer retires, what happens to the family farm?

Sometimes a son or daughter takes over, but sometimes – far too often, according to some — developers step in and plop apartments or warehouses or strip malls on the fertile land. American Farmland Trust hopes its new national program, Land Transfer Navigators, will protect family farms and stem the flow of farmland to nonagricultural uses.

“So many families pour their hearts and souls into caring for their farms, and we want that stewardship to continue,” said Brooks Lamb, land protection and access specialist for American Farmland Trust. “Many farmers want their farms to remain in agriculture even after they retire, and they’re willing to turn down higher dollar amounts in favor of a new farmer taking over the land.”

To help with that, American Farmland Trust will collaborate with land protection organizations across the country and train their staff members as “navigators” – people who can help retiring farmers transfer their land between generations or to someone else who wants to farm the land.

“Our research suggests that about 300 million acres of farmland will change hands in the next two decades,” Lamb said. “Who that land goes to really matters.”

To help link landowners and land seekers, the organization also is setting up the Land Transfer Resource Hub, an online one-stop shop of resources for both parties. The hub will be part of the trust’s existing Farmland Information Center, which already provides information on a variety of farming practices. “Anyone in the public will be able to use the hub for free,” Lamb said.

Part of the idea is to spark connections among current farmers and future farmers and develop trust on both sides as a first step.

“There are lots of young people who didn’t grow up on farms who are jumping at the chance to get onto a farm,” Lamb said. “If we can help navigators connect farm families with those young people, we might facilitate some continuing relationships that help farmers and the land itself.”

AFT’s new program is in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and is somewhat modeled after an existing AFT project supported by the Great Lakes Protection Fund. That project has a navigator program for Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and New York which, in part, works to link retiring farmers with people who want to operate family farms and to facilitate those land transfers.

“There are a lot of challenges in a farm transfer. Some are economic, some are legal and logistical, and others are emotional. We try to create a network of people who can help,” said Julie Platz, the agriculture conservation innovations associate at AFT who works with the Great Lakes Farm Navigator Network.

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