Iowa Public Television


Young People Eyeing Farming as Career in Iowa

posted on October 14, 2011

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) - Ben Novak plans to return to his family's farm near Elberon in eastern Iowa to begin his career as a full-time farmer after he graduates from college next year.

"That's always what I intended to be," Novak said. "I would say it's always been in my blood."

Novak, 20, is working on his degree in beef production at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids.

Industry experts told The Gazette ( he's among a growing number of young people looking at farming and ranching as the volatile economic climate creates worry about finding a job.

"I have been in the industry for 30 years, and I have seen more young faces this year than ever before," said Dal Grooms, spokeswoman for the Iowa Cattlemen's Association.

Grooms said she's been struck by the number of young people at farm meetings and cattle facility tours she frequents. She said she believes high commodity prices and an uncertain job market are partly behind the surge in prospective farmers.

"The economic opportunity has created the desire to come home and be involved in agriculture and food production," Grooms said.

The Coalition to Support Iowa's Farmers has taken more calls from recent college graduates interested in getting a foot in the door. And, more young people are applying for Iowa's beginning farmer loan and the federal beginning farmer tax credit programs.

Brian Waddingham, the coalition's executive director, said that over the last three months, the organization has fielded a spate of inquiries from people younger than 35 wanting to launch a farming career. Many of the callers want to know how they can get into the field, literally, given the rising price of farmland.

"We help them take a look at whether dad or grandpa can sell them a place on the farm to put up a cattle building or a hog building," Waddingham said.

The coalition took nearly 140 calls from July through September, many from prospective young farmers and about double the number of calls it received during the same period last year.

"It's just a great time to get into farming with the global demand for food increasing and continuing to increase," Waddingham said. "People need to eat."

Evidence of such optimism can be found in the rising popularity of Iowa's beginning farmer tax credit program and the federal beginning farmer loan program, according to officials at the Iowa Agricultural Development Authority.

Beginning farmer loans topped $23.7 million in the federal program last year in Iowa, up from $18.9 million in 2009. The value of tax credits issued through the state's program surpassed $3.5 million last year, up from $2.6 million awarded in 2009.

"We have more young people out there interested in getting into agriculture than there are opportunities to do it," said Jeff Ward, executive director for the Iowa Agricultural Development Authority.

Novak said many classmates share his aspirations but some won't be able to go into farming because of the steep cost of farmland -- now averaging $8,330 an acre and approaching $12,000 an acre in some parts of Iowa, according to last month's Realtors Land Institute survey.

Still, Novak's father, Ted, said he's encouraged that more young people are at least interested in farming. Without family-run operations fueled by generations of farmers, he said, large corporations will take over and change agriculture in Iowa.

"There was a time period when no one wanted to come back to farm," Ted Novak said. "So this is definitely encouraging."

Tags: agriculture new farmers youth