Iowa Public Television


New Farmers Take On the Challenge

posted on February 6, 2009

While U.S. agriculture has long been characterized by a larger share of older operators, the future of farming in America depends largely on continued entry by new, younger producers.

But, in its latest Census of Agriculture, USDA announced this week the number of operators age 75 or older increased by 20 percent, while the number of farmers under the age of 25 decreased by 30 percent.

Even if younger people are interested in farming, they often lack the capital and/or the experience necessary to enter the field successfully.

But there are resources to help younger farmers "take the reins." A case in point can be found in Iowa where an innovative program is helping the next generation of farmers embrace its role in agriculture. David Miller explains.

For some, the lure of milking cows twice-a-day would be the farthest thing from their mind but Mark Sipma came to the realization this was the job he wanted.

Mark Sipma, Hull, Iowa: "...after working, if you want to call it, a 9-5 job and just wanting to do it for myself and wanting to live the lifestyle that a dairyman has."

Though the idea of working long hours in the barn may not appeal to some people for Isaac Phillips owning a stake in a hog operation is a dream come true.

Isaac Phillips, Lakeview Farms: "It's something I have wanted to do since as long as I can remember. I must have been three or four years old and I just something I've always wanted to do."

Neither man is a hired hand. Instead, they is working to be one of the next generation of farmers by purchasing an established operation. Though much of the details of these transitions are being handled by the farmers themselves, the owners of these two Iowa operations have consulted with Iowa State University Extension's Beginning Farmer Center, or BFC.

The BFC was founded as the foreclosures and bankruptcies of the 80s Farm Crisis were in decline. . Those who work with the agency can take advantage of one-on-one conversations as well as seminars on creating business or succession plans.

John Baker, Beginning Farmer Center: "I think many farmers are very proud of, of the business they've developed over the years and would like to see that business continue on. I think the difficulty that many of them have if not many the majority have is figuring out how to get started. How do we start this process?"

Baker and his staff help facilitate the transfer of ownership from one generation to the next, stressing communication as the key to successful transition.

Two farmers calling on the Center's storehouse of knowledge are fourth generation farmers John and Colleen Adam who market more than 30,000 feeder pigs annually at their Lakeview Farms operation. Early on, the couple knew their four children had no interest in taking over their eastern Iowa farm.

John Adam, Lakeview Farms: "I think, part of the reason they weren't interested is we went through the farm crisis of the 80's and they saw us work too hard and struggle and I think probably it just turned them off and they knew there was a better life out there."

Despite the potential hardship, their daughter Amy Jones and son-in-law Todd Jones, a third generation farmer himself, returned to help out in the late 80s.

Recent health problems have pushed John Adam to choose a partner for Jones. With the help of Farm-On, a Beginning Farmer Center service that links prospective farmers with established operators, the Adams chose Isaac Phillips.

Until last year, Phillips, his wife Katie, and their 4 children were living in Utah. Phillips, who was a County Sheriff in Utah and owned 100 sows, is more than excited to be part of Lakeview Farms. Only a month after listing his name with Farm-On he received a phone call from Adam.

Isaac Phillips, Lakeview Farms: "...everybody has told me since I was kid you'll never make farming. You'll never make it. You'll never be able to farm. You'll never be able to do it and this is you know that's why this is such an incredible you know thing for us is we're doing it, you know we're making this happen."

The Phillips came out for a visit and the Adams knew they had found the right family.

Colleen Adam, Lakeview Farms: "...we thought he was highly trainable and teachable and with the enthusiasm we were not worried about it. You can teach anybody if you just are willing to take the time. You know so that, that was main thing we, we thought we could train them."

After a year of working together, Jones says there is the basis for a partnership.

Todd Jones, Lakeview Farms: " I would say we probably talk for a half an hour, forty-five minutes, a couple times a week just about how you know you're problems, how work's going, and you know bouncing ideas off. So we get along pretty good. We didn't know at first because you know somebody new coming in but we get along."

And Adam is ready to begin the process of writing up a contract to evenly split the responsibilities between Jones and Phillips at Lakeview.

John Adam, Lakeview Farms: "You either live in the past or you live in the future and I've thought about that quite a bit and there's really you have to decide forget the present. Do you want to live in the past or do you want to live in the future? And those guys are the future..."

Galen and Jeannie Breuer (Brewer) had known for years none of their three children would take over the farm. But Mark Sipma, their hired-hand, was interested and approached the Breuers about purchasing their 60-head western Iowa dairy operation.

Mark Sipma, Hull, Iowa: "He kind of acted like I don't think this kid knows what dairying is all about and he kind of let me sit on it for awhile and then a few weeks later I said it to him again. I said I really think I'd like to get into dairy farming."

With the thought of being free to see their children and grandchildren who live in other parts of the country the Breuer's began to discuss the possibilities of selling to Mark and his wife Kimber.

Galen Breuer, Hull, Iowa: "...we knew that we could start slowing down and did not like the idea of the facilities sitting empty. Knew we had a 60 cow dairy, knew that it has some really strong points to it but knew that it was a 60 cow dairy. So then we started running the numbers with the information we had to see if it was feasible for another to sustain another generation or at least get another generation started you know as the size it was and the numbers ran pretty good."

Sipma did not grow up on a farm but he had been milking cows for the Breuer's over the past 8 years and had been taking college classes in dairy farm management.

Every weekend for two years a series of informal negotiations took place in the milking parlor. Eventually, the details were determined and Sipma went to get a loan. Unfortunately, local bankers denied all of his requests. Breuer then consulted with the BFC. At the suggestion of a staff member, Sipma applied for and received an FSA loan through USDA. The young couple purchased the entire herd and milking equipment but chose to rent the rest of the machinery and buildings.

Kimber Sipma, Hull, Iowa: "First I thought he was kidding but I know it's his dream and I really respect and I'll go along with it and I'm really starting to like it myself."

The Sipma's recently quit their jobs in town and work together on the farm. Occasionally, Jonathan, their 2-year old son, helps out with the chores.

The Breuers continue to live on the property and farm 250 acres of row crops while the Sipma's travel from their home in nearby Hull, Iowa twice each day.

Galen Breuer, Hull, Iowa: "The cows are all here but I don't have final say anymore, he does, and I you know and I understood that going in that I was letting that go when, when you know when the papers were signed. But I also knew that he was an excellent dairy man that helped a lot."

Next week, we'll explore how the new generation of California farmers finds families who are ready to leave agriculture in a region where land prices are dramatically higher than the Midwest and available acres are few and far between.

For Market to Market, I'm David Miller.


Tags: agriculture farmers Hull Iowa news young adults