At the fairgrounds twenty-five young men and women were seriously engaged in listening and conversing on how best to take on the challenges of farming.

This first meeting in Sioux Center is just the beginning of possible regional meetings throughout Iowa with the intent of building a statewide organization. With the average age of Iowa farmers at 65, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and Iowa Farm Bureau are combining resources to help bring a new generation of farmers to the land. With a goal of building peer groups where these young men and women (between the ages of 18 and 35) can learn from each other.

ISU Swine Specialist, David Stender, was involved with starting three young farmer groups in the mid-eighties. He asks himself, just what did he tell them then. Thirty years later, experience has taught him much.

"Let’s say you have a four thousand head hog unit," said Stender. "What if you could find a way to save fifty cents per pig, and you learn it early, in your farming career of forty years, just what would that save you?" The young farmers took penciled out the math problem of forty years times seven percent interest times four thousand pigs, $988,000. Just about a million dollars, makes that fifty cents huge, emphasized Stender. Reminding them that little things do matter.

Risk management skills are very necessary. Successful people are willing to listen to others, yet, you need the wisdom of discerning what is practical and beneficial to your farming operation.

It is important to understand financial management and asset turnover. Not every big operation is financially stable, and not every small farm will fail, said Stender. A banker once told him there are two ways to make money–that a little bit of money made on lots of things works, as does increasing your markets on what you do best.

Use strategic planning. What value is there if you spend half your time on an enterprise that only adds ten percent to income? You have to remember to have a life, can you really spend fifteen hours a day working six or seven days a week? Strategic planning is critical to success to make good business decisions, said Stender.

"Consider joining a peer group," said Stender. "Our idea is to have peer groups devoted to beef, row crops, or a combination of any. You can network through the social media that is out there, but also come together four times a year, to have an activity and then discuss ideas on taking on the challenges that face you."

The young men around one table were all involved in family operations with fathers, uncles, and father-in-law. Farming operations included dairy, cow-calf, row crop and farrow to finish.

The challenges are multiple, they said. High on the list were regulations coming from DNR and EPA, finding land, access to enough capital, costs with high-priced machinery and land, uncertainties, fluctuating prices, finding opportunities and knowing where to begin.

With one voice, their plea was, "Give us young farmers a chance!"   
The challenges are huge, admitted the young men sitting around a table after a meal.

Essays from My Farm House Kitchen | Renae B. Vander Schaaf

Renae B. Vander Schaaf, freelance writer, lives on a real working farm in northwest Iowa.

To Contact Renae B. Vander Schaaf, please email her at [email protected]