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IFU focuses on farming’s generational shift

By Staff | Nov 29, 2012

“One-third of the new farms in Iowa focus on growing fruits and vegetables. Less than one-tenth ... focus on conventional row crop production.” —Sally Gran IFU’s Young and Beginning Farmers representative

AMES (IFU) – Iowa Farmers Union members gathered on Nov. 17 in Ames and heard a keynote address from IFU members Donna Winburn of Grinnell and Sally Gran of Nevada, entitled “Building on the History of Family Farm Advocacy in a Changing Landscape.”

Winburn, an emeritus member of the IFU Board of Directors and past vice president of IFU, farms near Grinnell with her husband, Russell Winburn, and has several children farming nearby.

Winburn’s remarks focused on her experience as a long-time family farm activist and the need to include young people in the process of crafting farm and rural policy.

“I can remember being given a young farmer award when I was almost in my fifties. For years the average age of the family farmer has been going up.

“We do good work at IFU, but we also must reach out to include the young people who are starting their own farms and need an organization like IFU to fight for their interests.

“If we don’t, there won’t be a next generation of family farmers.”

Winburn finished her remarks with a symbolic passing of the torch to Sally Gran, the Young and Beginning Farmers Representative on the IFU Board of Directors.

Gran, who is a co-owner and operator at Table Top Farm near Nevada, noted in her remarks that beginning family farms represent more diverse production than their predecessors and also face a unique set of challenges.

“About one-third of the new farms in Iowa focus on growing fruits and vegetables, usually for the local market. Less than one-tenth of new farms focus on conventional row crop production,” said Gran. “These aren’t the farms of a generation ago, and policies for young and beginning farmers need to reflect that shift and the increased diversity in production.”

Gran noted the challenges for beginning farmers, including sky-rocketing land prices, concentration of land ownership, rising input costs, lack of processing facilities for local foods, and federal and state farm policy geared heavily to conventional commodities and large farms.

“I don’t think it’s a question of choosing between conventional crops or local food production, organic or non-organic. I certainly have a set of values that I bring to farming, but the financial reality for most young and beginning farms is that we can only afford to get started on a few acres with really labor-intensive production that keeps machinery and input costs at a minimum. We want to farm. It’s a question of whether we are crafting policies that encourage young people to become farmers and stay in our rural communities. That’s the choice that we face.”

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