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New farmers locking onto webinar series

By Staff | Nov 5, 2009

Brent Larson, a broker and consultant for Sunderman Farm Management in Fort Dodge, and a beginning farmer, is prepared to take notes during Tuesday's first "farminar" presentation, conducted by the Beginning Farmer Center and Practical Farmers of Iowa.

Brent Larson sat comfortably at his computer Tuesday evening, armed with a notepad and pen. Although it was well past “normal” quitting time for his day worker contemporaries in town, Larson knows that as a beginning farmer, as well as a farm manager and consultant, the business of farming doesn’t stop at 5 p.m.

The time was 7 p.m. and Larson was settling in to monitor the first of eight webinars geared to help beginning farmers interested in breaking into the local foods production market; as well as farm families in the process of transitioning farm ownership. The series was created by Practical Farmers of Iowa, based in Ames. He was one of 100 people statewide registered for the first presentation.

As an Air Force reservist, Larson said he cannot keep livestock, since he is gone for extended periods during the year, but that he is interested in possibly someday of growing meat animals for local markets.

“This just sounds like something to learn about,” Larson said, who works during the day in Fort Dodge at Sunderman Farm Management Co. “I try to take advantage of all the free education I can get from PFI, Iowa State (University) and others.

“Besides, we manage other peoples’ farm. How can we do that if we aren’t educating ourselves?”

PFI said there are 130 beginning farmer in its membership, with about 30 percent registered to monitor the eight-part series that starts at 7 p.m. each Tuesday through November and December. Sally Worley, who coordinates PFI’s communications, said about half of the 130 beginning farmer membership currently farms, like Larson, while the other half desires to start farming as a career. PFI describes a beginning farmer as anyone who has been farming 10 years or less.

Although he gets a large amount of farm management information from a variety of sources, many of them geared for large operations, “I feel like PFI is geared more toward small farms,” Larson said, “and I like to know that perspective.”

Luke Gran, Next Generation coordinator for PFI, said some of the beginning farmers, such as Wade Dooley, of Albion, are working in family operations. Others, such as Sally Hertz, of Nevada, were not raised on farms, but are seeking career opportunities in farming.

“With prohibitive land prices,” Gran said, PFI expects most of this demographic “would start with small farms selling food to local and regional markets.”

Larson is a graduate of the Air Force Academy and is attached to the 23rd training squadron in Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala. “I’m always interested in extra income, he said, adding that he looks forward to the day when he would have the capability of managing livestock. But until then, he’s satisfied with a small 160 acres under corn/soybean rotation he shared with his father, Jon Larson, and his day job in Fort Dodge.

PFI’s webinar series was funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative. According to a Practical Farmers of Iowa survey, the beginners report they need a support network, help with legal issues, land acquisition, and whole farm planning, among other topics.

A movement continues to grow throughout Iowa with local consumers preferring food grown and raised locally.

“There is great opportunity for dairies, grass-finished livestock farms, orchards, fruit and vegetable farms and more,” said PFI’s Gran.

Tuesday’s presentation kicked off with “whole Farm Planning.” The remaining series topics include:

  • Nov. 10: Legal Issues in succession.
  • Nov. 17: Estate planning.
  • Nov. 24: Which enterprise? Market identification.
  • Dec. 1: Fitting in the new enterprise.
  • Dec. 8: Enterprise budgets.
  • Dec. 15 Product, placement, pricing, promotion and people.
  • Dec. 22: Financing your enterprise.

Webinar sponsors include the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, the Wallace Genetic Foundation and PFI.

Larson said the 160 row-crop acres are no-tilled for soybeans and strip-tilled for corn and employee a number of land-friendly, conservation technologies.

“I feel pretty fortunate,” Larson said. “Dad’s not stuck on how things were done 40 years ago. My brothers and I are open to new things.”

For more information and to register, visit: www.practicalfarmers.org/farminar

The Beginning Farmer Center assists in facilitating the transition of farming operations. Practical Farmers of Iowa includes a diverse group of farmers and nonfarmers. Its programming stresses farmer-to-farmer networking through research and demonstrations.

Contract Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, ext 453 or by e-mail at kersh@farm-news.com.

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