Yesterday we drove a bit more than a thousand kilometers and crossed all the way through Nebraska into Colorado to arrive in Denver for a two day Changing Lands, Changing Hands conference. Nebraska is even more sparsely populated than Iowa and driving through I saw more irrigation installations than houses!
This national conference is part of the FarmLASTS project. This project addresses one of the “most pressing issue inUS agriculture”; the access to, the affordability and security of agricultural land to (young and new) farmers. This conference addresses many of these topics, to a mixed audience of farmers, NGO members and academics from land grant public universities (such as Iowa State University).
The statistics provided by the project are quite startling. Agricultural land is increasingly in the hands of older owners (60+ years). Of all farm landlords, over 60% are over the age of 60 and 40% are over 70 years old. Many of them are women, because women often outlive their husband. Investor ownership is increasing. For example, in Iowa, 34 % of farmland owners were investors (2002). Nationally the percentage of farmland owners who are NOT farm operators is as high as 88%. So there are multiple challenges in farm entry, exit, tenure relationships and transfer to discuss here. Especially, because the estimates are that half of the US farm land will change hands in the next 20 years, which amounts to approximately 400 million acres.