The Fate of Illinois Farmland, An Intergenerational Effort

By Kristin Walters

The fertile soil of Illinois farmland has defined the state for 200 years (hello, bicentennial). And current farmers and aspiring ones are wondering who gets to carry on the legacy for the next 200. If you’re not in the farming industry, the issue is more complicated than you think.

Older generations are farming for longer, and there’s more consolidation of farmland. That leads to fewer opportunities for young people who want to stay on the farm. In contrast, many young, enthusiastic farmers without family ties to land struggle with starting a sustainable business without their own fields. To explore the needs of and opportunities for these two farming populations, WVIK, Illinois Newsroom and Harvest Public Media hosted “News & Brews: Who’s Getting the Farm” in Davenport, Iowa on Monday, December 17th, a community conversation moderated by Agriculture Reporter, Madelyn Beck.

There was ardent agreement about the urgency for better land transfer practices from the event’s panel: David Baker, Director of the Beginning Farmer Center, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach; Kate Edwards, Farmer and Iowa Farmland Access Navigator at the non-profit Renewing the Countryside; and Melissa O’Rourke, Attorney; Farm & Agribusiness Management Specialist, Iowa State University Extension & Outreach.

The urgency for solutions to land transfer challenges stems, in part, from the age of farmland owners. There are expectations that, in February 2019, the Census of Agriculture will show Illinois farmland ownership statistics similar to those of Iowa. The Iowa Farmland Ownership and Tenure Survey by the University of Iowa Extension shows that 60 percent of Iowa farmland is owned by people over age 65, with 35 percent owned by people over 75. If Illinois numbers are close to these, there will be significant land changing hands in the next few decades.

So what’s the big deal? Panelists described the importance of older farmers planning for what’s going to happen to their farm after they’re gone and the importance of younger farmers getting onto some of that farmland.

This triplet of Iowa farming experts stress the importance of better estate planning by older farmers, less complicated zoning laws in rural areas and a huge culture shift that must prioritize intergenerational collaboration and communication. Edwards, a young farmer affectionately known by many as “Farmer Kate,,” brings up another barrier for young farmers trying to start out: The cost of food. Listen to her personal experience here:

 

Despite the complexity of farmland transfer, there are a lot of resources that can help, including the panelists. Hear them list the best ways for current and aspiring farmers to find support.

 

Loved what you’ve heard? Learn more about the panelists and their expertise here: