Agriculture remains a diverse and challenging industry, and farmers exist at many different experience levels. Farming is an occupation that is asset heavy – land, equipment, buildings, machinery, livestock – and all of those assets are expensive. A mid-size farm can run up to hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. Some farmers are making a living on thirty acres or fewer. But if a would-be farmer really wants a farm with all the acreage, barns, sheds, tractors, planters, sprayers, combines and harvesters, what are they to do?
With the average age of farmers approaching 60, Virginia is experiencing a rapidly increasing demand for quality land transitions. All across the commonwealth, a large number of farmers are facing retirement without a next generation family member to take over their life’s work. Luckily for the future of agriculture, there is an up-and-coming dedicated generation of young and beginning farmers eager for opportunities. In recent years, a partnership between the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition, Virginia Farm Bureau Young Farmers and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Office of Farmland Preservation, led to the creation of the Virginia Farm Link Certified Farm Seeker (CFS) program. The CFS program is designed to provide individuals seeking farming opportunities with the tools needed to successfully demonstrate their farming commitment and vision to interested landowners.
Agriculture is a business; in fact, it is Virginia’s largest industry. And like any other business, would-be farmers need a sound business plan as a first step on the road to their goal of farm ownership. The CFS Program is designed around helping interested farmers produce a business plan and resume, as well as demonstrate on-farm experience. Five modules are available as resources to assist in accomplishing these goals: Introduction to Whole Farm Planning, Business Management, Land Acquisition and Tenure, Marketing, and On-Farm Experience. Each module contains objectives, questions and possible activities to help beginning farmers reach their goals. This is NOT a course to teach people how to farm, but is designed for all farmers, including beginning, transitioning, and established. It is a self-guided program that strives to provide individuals seeking farming opportunities with the tools needed to successfully demonstrate their farming commitment and vision to interested landowners.
CFS provides significant advantages to farmers looking for land by giving them a leg up on the competition. CFS helps produce successful transitions by providing landowners with quality farm seekers who are serious about farming and have established clear goals and plans. To prepare for talks with owners, certified farm seekers are required to develop a professional business plan and resume and demonstrate on-farm experience.
Certified farm seekers will receive landowner matching assistance/facilitation and elevation on the Virginia Farm Link database. The Virginia Farm Link is an online database designed to bring those landowners interested in passing land on to the next generation together with those interested in gaining access to farmland and farming operations in Virginia. Currently the Virginia Farm Link website is being revised with a new, easier-to-use version expected to be available before 2016. Those who are “certified” will receive special designation in the database, thereby increasing their chances of being contacted by a landowner. Other incentives include a one-time professional business plan review, social/networking opportunities with other farmers/landowners, and possibly cost-share in time with a transition mediator or attorney.
Even if you are an established farmer and not actively seeking land, CFS offers benefits for everyone. CFS is designed for farmers of all experience levels, and those who complete the program also receive $500 cost-share towards a farm planning tool, a professional business plan review, and numerous networking and social opportunities. There are currently 15 certified farm seekers and over 75 farm seekers working through the application process. The current list of certified farm seekers is posted on the VDACS website and displays those farmers who have completed the program and are the first recommendations to landowners looking for a farm transition.
The Certified Farm Seeker Program is a partnership between Virginia Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, made possible by the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition Project through Virginia Tech and revenue generated from the Virginia Agriculture specialty license plate.
Mrs. Katie Myer
Certified Farm Seeker Coordinator
Mr. Ron Saacke
Virginia Farm Bureau
Mr. Andy Sorrell
Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Office of Farmland Preservation
Post Contributed By: Andy Sorrell, Office of Farmland Preservation Coordinator with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS); Katie Myer, Certified Farm Seeker Coordinator