American Farmland Trust announced its selection of a new national cohort of 48 leading experts in land transfer as partners in creating Transitioning Land to a New Generation. The project will build an adaptable, skills-based curriculum to help a new generation of farmers and ranchers navigate the legal, financial, and interpersonal issues in accessing and transferring land. The cohort will be trained to field test the curriculum in their communities and provide feedback from producers they work with.  The project will foster a service provider network and provide Trainers with the necessary skills to support farm and ranch transition, meeting growing demands for succession facilitation resources.

The successful transfer of land to the next generation of farmers and ranchers will require a transfer of knowledge and skills. More than 40 percent of American farmland is owned by seniors aged 65 and older who are likely to retire in the next decade or so. Given the demographics, AFT estimates, 371 million acres or one-third of U.S. farmland will likely transition to new ownership in the next 15 years.

Keeping land in farming – out of the path of development – and helping the next generation of farmers and ranchers access it are critical issues for the future of food production in this country. Acquisition of affordable land with appropriate housing and infrastructure is the biggest hurdle facing new farmers and ranchers. There are multiple reasons accessing land is challenging, including farm consolidation, rising land values, and conversion of farmland to development, all of which lead to a tight supply of land to purchase or rent.

These issues are made more complex by the fact that next-gen producers are more diverse than prior generations and much more so than agricultural landowners, 98 percent of whom are white.

Nationally, farmers of color are more likely to be new and beginning than white farmers – while roughly a quarter of white farmers are new and beginning, that figure is nearly a third for all farmers of color. Notably, nearly 40 percent of Asian and 36 percent of all Hispanic/Latino/a producers are new and beginning.

Even as the Census of Agriculture expands to include more producers, the data shows that the proportion of new and beginning farmers continues to rise. Between 2012 and 2017, the proportion of farmers of color that are new and beginning jumped multiple percentage points – notably, Black and African American producers jumped from 23 percent to 28 percent of the population being new and beginning in just five years.African American, Asian American, Black, Native American, Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and Hispanic farmers are more likely to be tenants and own less land, although many want to be independent operators and are qualified to manage their own operations. Heirs’ property and fractionated property rights further impede inheritance, especially for African American and Native American producers. Yet, few available farm transfer resources address these thorny issues.

Land transfer can be challenging within agricultural families, with competing interests and family dynamics to navigate. Families spend decades managing their farms and ranches with the hope of keeping future generations on the land. However, many operations are not profitable enough to transfer. In other cases, heirs want to manage their own—or a different kind of operation or do not want to continue in agriculture.

At the same time, the types of agricultural landowners also are increasingly varied—from individuals to institutions. Institutional landowners often have available farmland but do not know how to find or negotiate suitable arrangements with qualified New Gen producers.  Additionally, 544,000 Women Non-Operating Landowners play an increasingly important role in farm transfer. They own about 25 percent of the 354 million acres rented out for farming and are especially committed to farm families and farm communities.16 Yet, few resources are available to engage and support them in transitioning their land to New Gen producers. 

The cohort of trainers selected for Transitioning Land to the Next Generation was chosen for their expertise and the educational services they provide to farmers and ranchers. Collectively they represent regional, agricultural and demographic diversity. They bring voices and experiences of farmers, ranchers, and landholders from across the country who face a range of unique challenges in either accessing or transferring land.

“Transitioning” will incorporate learning circles to advance peer-to-peer learning, include social events to bring land seekers and landowners together, and develop multi-media teaching aids such as plug-and-play audio and video clips of interviews and conversations between landowners and land seekers.

With a seismic transition of land on the horizon, professionals will be trained to address major barriers for young, beginning, and underserved farmers and ranchers – land access and land transfer,” said Julia Freedgood, AFT Director of Farms for a New Generation. “Our guiding theory of change is ‘to know is not enough.’ We believe adult learners need to practice and apply knowledge for it to stick. In that spirit, all our resources will include action-oriented activities for trainers and their training participants.”

“It takes extra skill to bridge cultural, demographic, and production system differences. And it also takes extra effort to connect new generations of producers with nonoperator landowners, local governments, land trusts, churches, and other institutions who have land and are willing to make it available to them,” said Suzanna Denison, program manager, Farms for a New Generation. “AFT will focus on how to build relationships that foster productive communication skills and help a diverse new generation of producers find secure land options to grow their agricultural businesses, feeding their communities and stewarding the land.”

Transitioning is funded by a Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program grant from the USDA/National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The three-year project builds on AFT’s previous BFRDP grant project, Farmland for the Next Generation. Both projects are part of AFT’s ongoing, multi-faceted partnerships with organizations committed to helping beginning producers succeed.

AFT’s Farmland Information Center a national clearinghouse for agricultural land resources and technical assistance is a key resource in this project. It will house and promote resources developed through Transitioning and provide ongoing technical support.