Land for sale sign

It’s difficult to get started farming today, starting with trying to find the right land for an operation and determining how to pay for it and make it profitable.

A group for young farmers has developed a tool to help.

The National Young Farmers Coalition’s main focus is on policy, but it saw the need two years ago to develop a practical tool to help young farmers in making farmland buying decisions, said Michael Parker, land access program associate for the national coalition.

Often the people the coalition serves are new to farming, starting small with direct marketing and growing crops or livestock with a higher profit margin.

“Seventy-five percent of the young people we work with are first-generation farmers,” Parker said.

They may need access to land with existing infrastructure near urban markets. The free online calculator was designed to make it easy for them to understand and compare farm financing options, determine what they can afford, and prepare to work with a loan officer.

The tool was created in consultation with young farmers and farm service providers, such as Farm Credit. It helps them get a better sense of the costs, but they still need to find the land themselves, Parker explained.

“Buying land is one of the most consequential decisions that a farmer can make,” said Lindsey Lusher Shute, executive director and co-founder of NYFC. “We built the Finding Farmland Calculator to help farmers make that choice with more confidence. The tool helps users understand their financing options, the full cost of buying land, and strategies to make a farm more affordable.”

The calculator also gives users a chance to look at their own finances to see if their idea is practical, Parker said.

“We see it as a planning tool,” he said.

The site also offers reference to agricultural and lending terms that a newcomer may not be aware of and basic information about property insurance or other essentials that must be taken into consideration, he said.

The tool was developed at a time when nearly 100 million acres of the nation’s farmland were expected to change hands in the next five years, and young farmers cite land access as their top challenge.

“The biggest problem is communication,” Parker said. The potential new farmers have to make opportunities to meet retiring farmers who have no heirs or others interested in taking over their land or operations.

Beginning farmers may not have the capital to buy land outright and may be willing to work with others and learn, he said.

“Don’t rely on real estate listings to find farmland,” Parker advises beginning farmers. He urges hopeful farmers to “talk to people” and to establish relationships in the community.

“Be curious about other people’s business models,” he said.

Find the calculator online at https://bit.ly/2I1VRXX.

Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.