Kansas City, Mo – In the next decade or so, much of the Midwest could be facing some big changes in land ownership. More than half the farmland in some states is owned by people age 55 and older.Keeping family farms in family hands is a real concern for some of these farmers.
Consider Matt Peters. His family has been farming in Dawson, Iowa, for three generations. Peters, 55, grew up on the farm, growing corn and soy and raising hogs. He own 240 acres and, including rented land, farms about 1,400 acres total.
But when his son and daughter pursued other careers, he started thinking about how to best plan for the farm's future.
"I have a daughter that's a vet, and a son that's an actuary," he said. "When I'm dead and gone maybe someone else can take over instead of having all of the farm ground be split up and go to other large farmers. "
Peters heard about the FarmOn program, run out of Iowa State University's Beginning Farmer Center. The program's goal is to match beginning farmers people who really want to farm but don't have the capital to start from scratch with farmers who don't have anyone to pass the farm on to.
Every scenario is different. Sometimes the new farmers become a partner in the family business. Other times they start off renting land and ultimately buy the property.
To get started, beginning farmers fill out an application, listing their experience and their interests. Then, landowners can review the list and see if any of the young people might be a good match.
"I'll give them six to 12 apps to go through," said Dave Baker, a farm transition specialist who works for the program. "If they see something they like, they might phone them up and things start clicking. It's just like, well, eHarmony for farmers. "
And that's just how Peters met John Lase, who grew up in a small farm in Nebraska.
"My dad quit farming when I was 12, was kind of hard on me, but started helping neighbors, farm and take care of livestock," Lase said.
After college, Lase worked for a large farmer in western Iowa. But he wanted to be more involved in planning and farm management not just doing manual labor.
Lase and his wife Mariah first met Peters and his wife Ginny last September. The two men have been working together since then.
Peters receives some tax credits for renting to a beginning farmer, and gets help as he continues to farm the land. Lase has become like a working partner in the family business.
For this pair, things are working out.
And back at the Beginning Farmer Center, Baker still has a list of more than 300 beginning farmer applicants who are looking for their match.
This story was produced for Harvest Public Media, a collaborative reporting project involving six public broadcasting stations in the Midwest. Follow Harvest Public Media on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook.