Matthew Schroer

Lincoln County farmer Matthew Schroer says young farmers face challenges, but it’s also rewarding work. He spent time networking at the recent Missouri Corn Growers annual meeting.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Matthew Schroer knows being a beginning farmer can be rewarding but also challenging.

He raises soybeans, wheat and corn in east central Missouri’s Lincoln County, near Troy. He also works as a real estate appraiser and helps another local farmer on his operation.

Schroer knows support from other farmers can be key to helping young farmers get started, and on a snowy late-January day in Jefferson City, he was in the state capital to visit with other Missouri corn growers at their annual meeting.

Talking about industry issues at the meeting, Schroer says as a young farmer, maintaining global demand for his products is crucial.

“For me, definitely prices are a thing,” he says. “Definitely export markets are important. Farmers are producing more and more, and we need place to sell it.”

Schroer’s grandparents farmed, and his parents do not farm but they own farmland. He says it can be difficult as a beginning farmer to find available land, find the right bank and get the resources and equipment needed to farm.

Still, the rewards help offset the challenges.

“It’s very enjoyable raising your own crop, making your own decisions,” Schroer says.

Karisha Devlin, a University of Missouri Extension ag business specialist based in Knox County, says a key challenge for beginning farmers is getting access to the resources they need.

“One of the many obstacles that they face is land access and capital to get started,” she says.

Devlin says most producers need to have family involved in farming or know a retiring farmer they can work with to take over an operation.

“It’s really hard to just jump into production agriculture,” she says.

Beginning farmers have a variety of ways to get started, including starting their operations on a smaller scale. Some farmers also look to livestock or specialty crops with niche markets and value-added opportunities, Devlin says. These farmers might have jobs in town to help support their budding farm operations, and they can also make arrangements with more established farmers.

“They may trade their labor for use of equipment,” she says.

Devlin says another option is livestock producers can trade labor for a percentage of calf crops, growing their own herd with their work.

Land access remains a tough issue.

“Ground is so competitive,” Devlin says. “Being able to pay the cash rent, even though the commodity prices have lowered significantly, cash rent has been slow to come down because land owners are used to getting what they do.”

She says the USDA has been making efforts to help beginning farmers.

“One of the USDA’s really strong thrusts right now is toward beginning farmers,” Devlin says.

These efforts include beginning farmer loans with lower interest rates and lower standards for loan acceptance.

On the state level, the Missouri Agricultural and Small Business Development Authority also offers services for beginning farmers, including some loan guarantees and grant opportunities. MU Extension offers “Grow Your Farm” classes about starting and growing farming operations.

Of course, Devlin says some of the best support for beginning producers comes in the form of farmer-to-farmer conversations.

“The mentorship thing is huge,” she says.

With statistics showing the average age of Missouri farmers in the late 50s, many farmers are looking to decide what to do with their operations when they are done farming.

“Some of those farmers do not have an heir who’s interested in coming back to the farm,” Devlin says.

In some cases these aging farmers can work with younger, beginning farmers to help get them started and also figure out the future for their own farm, she says.

One of the keys for young and beginning farmers is to know their options and to study up to help make good decisions and plans.

“The other thing I’d encourage people to do is educate themselves,” Devlin says.

Ben Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.