Navigators can help farmers steer their ships

Farmers looking for land to operate on won't have a problem finding it, but getting on that land can be a difficult and time-consuming task.

Brett Olson of Renewing the Countryside for Minnesota, Oronoco farmer Kristin Pearson, Kate Edwards of Renewing the Countryside for Iowa and moderator Greg Padget of Practical Farmers of Iowa share their stories of finding and renting farmland as a young farmer.

RED WING — Farmers looking for land to operate on won't have a problem finding it, but getting on that land can be a difficult and time-consuming task. 

According to an estimate by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, nearly 100 million acres of U.S. farmland will change ownership during the next five years.

Research by the American Farmland Trust shows that 371 million acres will change hands during the next 15 years.

The Farmland Access Hub was recently created to assist new farmers in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa with finding land to farm. Funded by a USDA grant, the hub offers workshops, training camps and one-to-one coaching with farmland access navigators and technical advisers.

Kate Edwards is a farmland access navigator with Renewing the Countryside, one of many organizations involved in the Farmland Access Hub. She took the role after she experienced hardship with finding land herself.


Edwards was in her fifth year of farming and just getting the hang of it when she found out her landlord was changing the way the land would be used. She would no longer be able to farm there.

She went into shock, she said.

"I was barefoot, and hopped in my pickup and drove 10 hours to my parents house," said Edwards. "This was my dream, and I didn't know what I was going to do."

A seasoned farmer in Practical Farmers of Iowa coached Edwards through every step of her transition.

"She was my farmland access navigator, before I even knew this program existed," said Edwards.

She said that a lot of times, navigators are a much needed emotional resource for farmers going through divorce, the death of a loved or other traumatic events.

Edwards said her mentor not only dried her tears, but went with her to visit prospective farms, and let her know what would work and what wouldn't.

She eventually found a 10-acre farm that would work for her CSA operation. She has a five-year ground lease and ownership of the buildings that house herself and her equipment.


Through the process, Edwards became well versed in leasing and other rental options for farmers, and now she's putting those skills to use by working with other farmers as an access navigator.

Brett Olson, a farm access navigator in Minnesota and co-founder of Renewing the Countryside, said his position is not as simple as a finder of farmland. The most important part  is to be there for farmers.

Kristin Pearson, who operates Pearson Organics, a 4-acre vegetable farm in Oronoco, worked with Olson and a Renewing the Countryside lawyer to a find a permanent land situation.

Pearson said help was required for her to secure a lease, and she's had to go back several times to Renewing the Countryside for help with restructuring and getting legal help with her landlord. 

"Just even telling me things like 'go talk to the banker before talking to FSA'," said Pearson. "Those little things that will save you one step in the process, a step that could take two or three weeks. A lot of time of time can go by really fast when you're trying to buy a farm."

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