PA trailblazers in land access

posted December 21, 2010

Amish country… soon to be even an more compelling destination for young farmers

Farm Futures Program to Bring Landowners, New Farmers Together
Dec 11, 2010 by Jennifer Hetrick in Lancaster Farming

EXTON, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) introduced its Farm Futures program last weekend at the Chester County Economic Development Council, describing how the program will assist new and beginning farmers as well as landowners interested in leasing out their acreage.

During a workshop co-sponsored by the Southeast Agriculture Industry Partnership, Marilyn Anthony, PASA’s southeast regional director, told a packed audience that the organization’s goal is to help new and beginning farmers overcome their two main obstacles — access to land and capital.

“We felt when we surveyed the landscape, it was clear that purchasing land was not going to be the solution,” Anthony said.

Given an annually increasing demand for locally grown food, the need for assistance in setting up new, and often organic, operations is also on the rise.

Darlene Livingston, executive director of Pennsylvania Farm Link, which is PASA’s partner in developing the Farm Futures program, pointed out that many farmers from older generations have no retirement plans because they invested all their income in their land. In a sense, their acreage is almost like a 401(k), she said.

“They have worked all their life for that — that is their entity,” Livingston said. “Just as you wouldn’t give someone your 401(k), they do not want to give that away.”

And with workable acreage unaffordable for new and beginning farmers, leasing land may be a more viable option for all parties, Livingston said.

“It shows that there needs to be options out there for new and beginning farmers,” she said, noting that absentee landowning has been successful in California and Iowa.

Pennsylvania Farm Link endeavors to match landowners who want to lease their farmland to first-time farmers, and it is also growing its online library in the near future.

Consultant Bill Creamer, graduate of Temple University’s Fox School of Business and past member of its PASA Temple Team, indicated that USDA statistics from 2007 show that 70 percent of farmers in Pennsylvania own their land.

The average cost of an acre of farmland in Southeastern Pennsylvania is $45,200, Creamer said, with this pricing obviously out of reach for those new to food-raising operations.

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