We had a great turnout for our Farmland and Financing Workshop at Green Mountain College on March 28th. Thanks to our panelists and to all of the farmers and land owners who came to participate in the discussion. Below is a recap of our panelists and key points to take home from the event. Ben Waterman:
Ben is UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture’s Beginning Farmer and Land Access Program Coordinator.
He gave an overview of current land access issues. Though land for farms has been decreasing for the last 30 years due to high development value, beginning farmers seeking land in Vermont are lucky for a couple reasons:
- Farmers continue to retire, making farm land available
- There are many support networks for land seekers: Farmland Access Network, Land for Good, Land Access Database, RAFFL
Ben’s take home message was that people who access available services are most successful in their search for land. Make your needs known!
After the land access panel, Ben shared key findings from the recently published, “Guide to Financing the Community Supported Farm.” You can download a copy for free here.
Donald is the Southwest Regional Director for the Vermont Land Trust.
Donald likes to say that when land is conserved through the Vermont Land Trust (VLT), it’s conserved until the next revolution. In other words, a lot of thought should go into a land owner’s decision to work with VLT.
The way VLT works is that a landowner sells his/her development rights to VLT. The farmer who ends up purchasing the land pays only what is left over after the development rights are sold.
Donald suggested that farmers who are interested in working with VLT ask themselves if they envision these scenarios to be possible for them now and in the future:
- A long term commitment to farming
- Interested in 25-30 tillable acres
- A business plan where 50% or more of the income is from farming
- Gross revenues near $100,000
If you fit this mold, check out VLT. If you answered no to some of the bullets, VLT might still be the answer. These are by no means set in stone rules. But, consider what your goals for farming are before starting a conversation with Vermont Land Trust.
India Burnett Farmer:
As many readers may know, India was a long-time RAFFL staff member until having a baby last year. She is a wealth of knowledge regarding all things agricultural, and had some great insights about purchasing land.
India and her husband Andy own Northeastern Vine Supply in West Pawlet, VT. Northeastern Vine Supply is a wholesale and retail nursery selling cold hardy wine and table grapevines. Prior to purchasing land, they leased land on two different sites, in West Rutland and Poultney. They participated in training opportunities for beginning farmers, including the Vermont Farm Viability Program. Through Farm Viability, they updated their business plan to be appropriate for lenders they were hoping to work with to purchase land.
Part of their reason for wanting to purchase land rather than lease was that they needed a large climate-controlled refrigeration unit for their vines. Without a permanent land base, they were unable to build the infrastructure they needed.
They developed a relationship with Vermont Land Trust and ended up purchasing their current land in West Pawlet with the help of VLT. They worked with Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) as lenders for the purchase and improvements.
Now that India and Andy have owned their farm for three years, they are becoming more efficient. Still, India gave words of caution about jumping into a land purchase agreement. Here are some things to consider:
- Less expendable income: Paying a mortgage vs. leasing land at a low cost
- Capital investment up front for infrastructure: depending on the infrastructure, it may or may not add “value” to your farm (ex: with their specialized enterprise of growing grape vines, the infrastructure they are putting into place is not necessarily useful for a vegetable or dairy production that may buy their land years from now)
- If working with VLT, remember “perpetuity:” Shape the easement to work for you now and into the future.
Ed Lewis is a 7th generation dairy farmer from Castleton. The Lewis family farm began in 1770.
In 1987, farmer Gary Miller came to Ed with a proposal to lease some of his land. On that particular day, Ed was busy! So he told Gary to come back with a plan. Gary did come back, with a plan to lease 5 acres and the amount he would pay each year for a 20 year lease. Ed agreed, and Miller’s Farm Stand has been a roadside attraction ever since. This would have been the 25th year of Gary’s lease, but very unfortunately, Gary was killed in a tractor rollover accident in the fall of 2011. His family is looking for someone to purchase the farm stand operation, and Ed is eager for this to happen as well. He’d be happy to continue leasing his land to a farmer. For more information, check out this Craigslist posting for the business.
Ed also leases land to Stephen Chamberlain of Dutchess Farm, a vegetable farmer growing on eight acres. He leases to another farmer as well, with whom he barters bales of hay for the cost of rent.
Ed’s advice if you’re looking for land is to ask around. You never know when you may come upon a land owner who is eager to lease to a beginning farmer!
LANDOWNERS! Are you interested in more info about leasing or selling to farmers? If so, here are some questions to consider:
Rental Details- Describing your vision for the use of your land will help farmers determine whether their operation will fit with your rental opportunity.
- What are your goals for renting your farmland? How involved will you be as a landlord?
- What type of farming would you like to see on your land? Are there any types or methods of farming that you will not allow on your property?
- What type of lease will you offer (Multi-year, year-to-year, etc?
- What is the rental cost of the farmland?
Farmland Details -The more detailed your description of the property, the easier it will be for potential renters to determine if your property is a good fit.
- How is the land currently being used? Describe past farming uses.
- Is the land flat, level, rolling, hillside? What are the aspects (North, South, East or West facing) of the fields available? What is the layout of the available fields?
- Provide soil types and acreages for each available field (this information is available using NRCS's Web Soil Survey, www.websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov/app/Homepage.htm)
Farm Infrastructure Details- Are there barns, sheds, greenhouses, chicken coops, roads, etc. available to rent?
- Describe barns and other infrastructure available with your rental (the type and square footage, etc)
- Describe irrigation options (can the farmer pump from nearby creeks, rivers or ponds to water crops?
- Describe property access (are there driveways to rental fields, parking areas, etc?
- Is there housing available with the farmland? If so, please describe.
For more information about this event or farm land in our area, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.