Connecting farmland owners with farmland seekers

The website FindAFarmer.net, which is managed by Practical Farmers of Iowa, recently underwent a redesign in order to better serve landowners and land seekers.

Steve Carlson, next generation coordinator at PFI, said FindAFarmer.net was launched in 2011 on a much smaller scale and has been updated throughout the past eight years.

“Due to the nature of technology, the website needs updated, upgraded every couple of years,” he said. “We did an overhaul to try to modernize the website, but also added a few new tools and bells and whistles to make it more friendly. We have been able to make some of those improvements as well as making it more visually appealing and more easily to use.”

One of the updates will allow the website to work on a larger, nationwide scale.

“Most of the networking is for Iowa, but it can work all over the United States,” he said. “I just worked with a landowner who owns farmland in Iowa, because it’s his family’s land, but he lives in Philadelphia, so it is difficult for him to come back to Iowa and find a tenant. He is interested in someone that wants to try some sustainable practices. This is a perfect tool for him to try to find a match from Philadelphia for his farmland here in Iowa.”

Carlson said the website works on top of Google Maps Imagery. In the new version, land seekers are able to create multiple land interest listings across the state in the places where they would potentially be willing to relocate for.

“When you create a profile, if you are a landowner, you can plug yourself on the map, wherever your land is that you are looking to rent or sell,” he said. “As a land seeker, you can do the same thing. Create an account. Put your location on the map. The map is one of the main ways that you can perform a search to look for other users that would match your interests.”

Previously, Carlson said it has been difficult to track the land connections made through the FindAFarmer.net website.

To help better track those success stories, Carlson said going forward, when people go to the site to delete their account, PFI has included an easy and simple exit survey.

“At that point, the situation leaves the website and we can’t track the success rate,” he said. “We know we have connected dozens and dozens of land owners and land seekers to start the conversation, but I can’t tell you how many lead to a permanent success story.”

Starting that conversation

“Find a Farmer is a free service and is basically a platform for people to initiate a conversation,” Carlson said. “Put themselves out there, share their story, start a conversation through the messaging function; that’s the extent of what we are offering. The platform to start that conversation for them to be able to go forward with a lease arrangement or farm transfer.”

The website is also anonymous.

“That makes for a lot less pressure to have those conversations,” he said. “In order to be able to take it to the next level they then share their contact information.”

Carlson said FindAFarmer.net is useful for a variety of different contexts.

“One of them is for land sales,” he said. “The average age of farmland owners in Iowa is growing higher and higher. Sixty percent of farmland is owned by somebody 65 years and older. One of the initial interests in creating this site was to help that long-term land transfer with these aging farmland owners who might not have an heir or someone interested in taking over the farmland. That is one of our interests is to connect beginning farmers with those folks for a land transfer.”

Another benefit to the FindAFarmer.net website is helping landowners find land seekers that share their same production interests.

“It may help them find someone who may do some alternative production methods or alternative crops,” he said. “To find someone who connects with their values who can lease the land.”

Another component to the website that PFI supports is using it as a tool to help diversify your own farm.

“It is also for that farmer who is a grain farmer, growing corn and beans and maybe some hay and alfalfa and they are interested in adding livestock,” Carlson said. “They will post the opportunity on there to say ‘anybody that has livestock experience and would like to join our operation and start a cow-calf herd,’ they use this to connect on a partnership level as well to diversity farms.”

“There’s really a lot of different potential ways it can be used.”

Although there are a lot of real estate businesses and land management companies that are able to assist landowners and land seekers, Carlson said FindAFarmer.net can help make the process more personable.

“What sets the FindAFarmer website apart is the ability to get on there and share your story as a land seeker,” he said. “You are able to create a profile that can share what your experiences are with agriculture and what your hopes and values are — what you would like to do. You can share your story and then maybe make a connection with a landowner that shares those same values.”

“There’s a lot more than connecting a real estate sale or match,” Carlson added. “It is finding someone that views the land and treats the land using the same values you might have. It makes it a little bit more of a personal connection on how the land is managed.”

Beginning farmers

Carlson said the website is just as functional as someone looking for a new tenant to farm their land and a boost for beginning farmers as well.

“This is a part of our beginning farmer program,” he said. “And it’s one of several, formal programs that we operate and try to help beginning farmers start and maintain sustainable farm businesses.”

Carlson said PFI’s beginning farmer network constantly tells them one of the main barriers is access to farmland.

“This FindAFarmer website plugs into that — helping to connect beginning farmers with farmland to lease or to potentially own,” he said.

Beyond the struggle with accessing farmland, Carlson said there are number of other aspects beginning farmers need help with and one of those is obtaining start-up costs.

“We have a program that is called a savings incentive program that helps beginning farmers start a savings plan,” he said. “They do that for two years and then we will match the money they save during that two year period up to $2,400.”

Another issue for beginning farmers is on the business side of their farming operation.

“A lot of people get into agriculture because they want to play in the dirt,” he said. “They want to grow things and work outside, but then the struggle is to realize that you are running an actual farm business and you want to make sure you are doing it profitably in order to have a sustainable farm.”

He said PFI works with farmers in a number of different ways to write components in their business plan.

They will also help to connect beginning farmers with peers — not only with other beginning farmers, but also with experienced farmers as their potential mentors.

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