Young farmers want partnerships, not handouts

Virginia’s Farm Link program is a decade old, and Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers are working to reboot the program and encourage more farmers and would-be farmers to get connected.

“Young farmers are looking for partnerships, not handouts. We want to help preserve farmland by working it,” said Bob Harris, VFBF Young Farmers Committee chairman.

“Many people, particularly older landowners, are still not familiar with what Farm Link is or what it does. We really want to reach that age group, the farmers in their 40s and 50s who might be interested in being mentors to younger farmers and passing their businesses on to them.”

Harris said the Young Farmers Committee has made it a priority to help in recruiting younger people into agriculture in 2012. A recent Associated Press article noted that it appears more and more young entrepreneurs are choosing to farm full time. Enrollment at agriculture colleges is rising, social media is full of stories about how young people are successfully running local food operations, and the economic downturn has convinced many Americans that there’s little job security in the corporate world.

A Farm Link and farm transition pilot workshop is scheduled for Feb. 11, 2012, at the Olde Dominion Agricultural Complex in Pittsylvania County. It’s one of a series of workshops designed to acquaint both older farmers and potential farmers with the challenges, benefits and process of passing a farm operation to the next owner.

Another Farm Link workshop will be held this summer in the Shenandoah Valley.

“In Nebraska a similar program has led to about 150 successful mentorships and conversions to new operators,” Harris said. “We’d like to see Virginia’s Farm Link program grow and have a similar impact.”

The current program consists of educational efforts as well as an online database that collects the names and contact information of both would-be farmers and current farmers interested in mentoring or business succession planning. The database and other resources can be found at vdacs.virginia.gov/preservation/program.shtml.

“A lot has been done in the past 10 years to collect some tremendous educational resources for young farmers and older farm owners,” Harris said. “Now we need to do more to encourage older farmers to connect with younger farmers and keep our state’s largest industry vibrant into the future.”

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