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Is helping young farmers impractical?

By Dr. Donald J. Jonovic

THE PROBLEM:

Submitted by T.T. via email:

I truly enjoy reading your column every month, but your
January advice to the couple on how to keep their land while helping a neighbor's
son get started I took personally. Read Dr. Jonovic's January column.

I am a 25-year-old farmer from an operation that did not
have room for me. When I was 20 years old, I was blessed with an opportunity to
have a retired couple give me the chance to cash-rent their farm; they also
helped me out with some equipment needs.

It was only 111 acres, but if they had not given me that
opportunity, I am certain I would not be farming today. Instead, with a lot of
hard work and sweat equity, I am now proud to be farming 400 acres.

Some people may look at me and laugh at the fact that I am
only farming 400 acres, but I am a proud individual, who is building a business
from the ground up. I WILL be successful. Every day I try to be the best.

I feel that your reply suggested the idea of helping a young
person was a failing proposal that would lead to him being broke and losing the
farm forever.

Although farming does take tremendous risk, the owners could
easily try to rent the farm and equipment on a one-year lease – just on a trial
basis – to this young man and go from there. There are many banks that are very
accommodating to a young person who wants to run a business today.

I agree that selling the house and the equipment at the same
time to this individual makes a lot of unnecessary risk. I just ask that you
reconsider how you worded your recommendation, because I took it that you felt
leasing farm ground to an established farmer was the only truly safe
alternative.

I am blessed to have had the opportunity to farm, and I
would hate to see this young man potentially miss his only chance to farm. The
success he may have must also be considered.

How else can new, young farmers without family land of their
own get started in agriculture?

THE SOLUTION:

T.T. certainly has our admiration and hope for his continued
success. People like him built America and continue to expand the opportunity
it represents.

I didn't intend to imply that helping a young farmer get
started was a bad idea. My primary point was that the older couple take care to
manage their own security before taking risks on someone else.

Once they've done that, choosing to help a new farmer may be
based more on personal values than on financial considerations.

The competition for land is fierce and will only increase as
more land is bequeathed to nonfarmers. Established farmers who have their own
equipment can afford higher lease payments than beginning farmers.

Farmers are generally charitable and generous people, so it's
not surprising T.T. found a couple willing to give him a break. That's not
charity. It's an investment in the community, and one that gave them a return,
as well.

But my major concern remains: Retiring farmers must put
their financial security first before agreeing to lease their land at submarket
rates.

They should discuss this decision with their own children,
since it also impacts their inheritance, which is a benefit, not a right.
Telling them about this is the right thing to do. 

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