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New published research explores effectiveness of farm link services

With more and more farmers not having a family member interested in continuing the farm, the biggest obstacle to a farm transfer is often simply the ability of owners and seekers to find each other. Over the past 30 years, programs and policies have been introduced to help farmers successfully transfer their farms by connecting them with new farmers through farm link services. Linking services help extend seekers’ and owners’ networks and facilitate an introduction – providing unrelated parties with a way to meet. The need to connect farm seekers with exiting farmers, and non-farming landowners, is greater than ever. 

Nationally, over 50 programs deliver farm link services of various kinds. In the early 1990s, the first farm link programs sought to help retiring farmers find a successor. Since then, farm link programs have sprung up to address this need. Many also target non-farming landowners looking for a farming tenant or buyer. All focus on helping farm (and ranch) seekers find suitable properties and tenure arrangements. As important and challenging as these programs are, there is little research that explores their operations, outcomes and effectiveness.

A collaboration of researchers from Indiana University, Land For Good (LFG) and Purdue University recently published the results of their investigation of 30 farm link services in 12 states in the Midwest and Central Plains. The study, co-authored by Kathy Ruhf, LFG’s Senior Advisor, offered a qualitative assessment of farm link services fostering farm transfers from farm owners to unrelated, new farmers.

The article, which appears in the journal Land Use Policy (July 2019), can be found at Fostering farm transfers from farm owners to unrelated, new farmers: A qualitative assessment of farm link services.

Providing unrelated parties with a way to meet aims to support owners in finding alternatives to liquidating their farms or selling on the free market.” 

Researchers learned about the characteristics of these linking programs and services, along with related mentor/apprentice programs and public policies. Employing a farm link program typology developed by LFG, the research team surveyed over 30 programs. Those surveyed affirmed the importance of such programs and reported frustration around limited capacity and few outcome metrics. The researchers suggest a menu of medium-term outcomes to track progress toward the more elusive long-term goals of successful non-family transfers.

Findings showed the 30 assessed programs serve a total of 6,300 owners and seekers. Many more seekers than exiting farmers and landowners participate in these linking programs, regardless of the specific services offered. Program leaders emphasized the importance of farm seeker education and support, and a full suite of farm succession planning assistance offered by trained providers. They also suggested that mentoring programs “offer promise for fostering non-family transitions.” Researchers agree on the value of economic incentives to foster land transfers and more secure tenancy such as state tax credit programs for landowners leasing to beginning farmers.

I feel like we’re on the right track with getting people starting to think about, and talk about, and educated about, options they have, and in networking with other people.”

There is a lot of interest in non-family transfer connections among organizations that serve farmers and ranchers. In the Lakeville Journal (July 2019), Helping farmers find land, LFG’s Connecticut partners illustrate the many resources available in the state to help landowners, land seekers, and exiting farmers. And from the Christian Science Monitor (July 2019), Farmers grow the food. But who’s helping new farmers put down roots? article highlights how young farmers get access to land from farm link programs.

To help programs learn from one another, LFG hosted a National Farm Link Clinic (April 2019) with representatives from 26 farm link programs from across the country. Successful practices and learnings from the gathering are being compiled to guide new and existing programs. This compilation will be available soon! The clinic also affirmed the importance of farm link programs, their variety, and their challenges. 

To learn more about farm linking programs and receive LFG’s Farm Link Clinic report coming soon, subscribe to our e-news.

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