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Ask Farmers for the FutureYour questions answered

We've received a number of good questions over the past several weeks from young and beginning farmers and ranchers. Many questions have been answered individually, and others will become columns on the Farmers for the Future site at Agriculture Online.

Q. I would like to expand my operation. What is the best way to find farm ground to rent without stepping on neighbors' toes? --Mike in Indiana

A. More and more land is owned by off-farm investors and heirs of farmers. You might offend people less by finding those landowners through platt books and courthouse records and approaching them first. But in the tight land market common in the Corn Belt, I suppose it's going to be hard not to offend someone. --Dan Looker

Q. I would like to find a retiring farmer who would be willing to me into his operation, similar to the way Dustin Shoemaker is working with Leroy Scott, as featured in a recent Up by their Bootstraps article in Successful Farming. How can I find a farmer like this?
--Jameson in South Dakota (and many other young would-be farmers in several states)

A. Farmers in Nebraska can visit the Center for Rural Affairs Land Link program, which is a database that links beginning farmers with landowners. There is an initial charge of $20 to join the database. The Center may have information for young farmers in neighboring states as well, including South Dakota. Before joining, non-Nebraskans should e-mail Joy Johnson at joyj@cfra.org to inquire. -- Dan Looker

Q. My grandfather's health is failing, and my dad and I would like to keep his farm in our family. We have no real capital to borrow money with. Is there some sort of rent-to-own agreement we could work out with my grandparents, and what sort of loop holes should we watch out for? --Seth in Iowa

A. First, you sound like you might be a good candidate for a new contract guarantee program being offered through the USDA's Farm Service Agency, if your grandfather would be willing to sell the land to you on contract. Basically, the program guarantees a couple of years of payments if a young farmer temporarily falls behind on a land contract. It's only available in a few states, but Iowa is one of them. The FSA can only guarantee five contracts per year, so if you're interested in pursuing this, it would be a good idea to move quickly. Visit the website below to learn more about the contract guarantee program. The person you'd need to contact for this is Chris Beyerhelm at the state FSA office in Des Moines. You can e-mail him at chris.beyerhelm@ia.usda.gov or call 515/254-1540, then 1, then extension 450. Also, you might contact John Baker. He's an attorney with the Farm On program at the Beginning Farmer Center at Iowa State, and specializes in this kind of situation. --Dan Looker

Q. I have been putting up small square bales of brome for horses for three years, and have expanded from 25 to 170 acres. I just secured a loan from the FSA to upgrade equipment. My goal is to continue with the horse hay, start a custom haying operation, and expand into beef cattle. What do you think? --Brett in Kansas

A. Brett, it sounds like you're doing great. Beef looks good right now, but I'd encourage you to consider a niche market like registered Angus or direct sales. --Dan Looker

Q. I have 10 acres in southern California, and would like to make my property profitable but am not sure where to start. What type of enterprise would be best ... livestock or something else? --Holly in California

A. I recommend the book, Booker T. Whatley's Handbook on How to Make $100,000 Farming 25 Acres: With Special Plans for Prospering on 10 to 200 Acres. It is available at amazon.com for around $45. Although the book was originally printed several years ago and some of the pricing may be outdated, the methodology remains the same, and you may be able to get some ideas and inspiration from the book. Second, it may make more sense for you, depending on the quality of your soil, to get into vegetable farming rather than raising livestock. It seems like that would make better use of your limited space. Finally, it would be advisable for you to talk to your county extension agent. Ask what types of enterprises are currently successful in your area, and maybe research local farmers markets. --Dan Looker

Write us at agonline@agriculture.com

We've received a number of good questions over the past several weeks from young and beginning farmers and ranchers. Many questions have been answered individually, and others will become columns on the Farmers for the Future site at Agriculture Online.

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