Farm Progress

Free program provides a meeting opportunity for beginning farmers and those farmers looking to exit the business.

Paula Mohr, Editor, The Farmer

March 29, 2017

3 Min Read
FARMING FUTURE: MDA’s Farm Link program provides a way for exiting farmers to meet and help beginning farmers get started in the business.

For farmers looking at retirement over the next decade with no heirs in sight, consider a free program offered by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture called Farm Link.

The free program, which began in fall 2015, currently has enrolled more than 80 beginning farmers and 15 existing farms seeking transition.

“Farm Link is designed to bring people together that in normal circumstances would not be connected,” says Jim Ostlie, MDA livestock development and planning specialist. “Our goal is to keep existing farms in operation and transfer to the next generation.”

Generally, farms in the program do not have family heirs to take over. Those farm owners have a strong desire to see their farm operations continue, and they are willing to assist the next generation in getting started, Ostlie says.

Prior to the program, MDA informally had been helping link up folks interested in beginning or exiting farming for years. However, Ostlie says state ag groups and farmers felt strongly about having one location where beginning farmers and farmers looking to transition could find one another, so MDA decided to offer Farm Link.

Farm Link works this way:

• An interested participant contacts MDA to learn about the program and complete an application form.
• MDA staff review the form. If there is a possible match, contact information is exchanged through the MDA.
• The two parties meet, discuss business and see if there is a connection.
• Transition of farm from current owner to new farmer begins, usually as an employer/employee relationship. Other arrangements may be made, such as options to purchase shares, land and livestock.

MDA staff point out that the program is a good option for a beginning farmer who understands the cost, work and resources required to farm but lacks the financial means to start.

Those beginning farmers who have considered the following questions would be good candidates for Farm Link:

• What do I need to bring to the table: sweat equity, capital or assets?
• Can the farm income support my family?
• Where will I live during the transition?
• Am I willing to work under the direction of the farm owner?
• Have I discussed my plans with legal and financial professionals?

Accordingly, the program is a good option for a farmer who plans to retire within five to 10 years, does not have heirs in interested in the business and wants to help a beginning farmer.

Retiring farm applicants for Farm Link may have considered:

• Am I ready to retire?
• How much control am I ready to give up?
• Have I chosen a successor to continue the farm?
• Do I support my successor’s vision for the farm?
• Have I discussed my plans with legal and financial professionals?
• How long does it take?

Transferring a farm can take a long time — sometimes years — to find the best fit for both parties’ needs, circumstances and personalities.

Ostlie says it is difficult to gauge the success of Farm Link thus far, since the program is fairly new.

“We find the success is in bringing people together to discuss the future, and in that aspect, the program is already a success,” he adds.

Any size and type of farm may participate in Farm Link. There are no program fees, and there is no obligation to follow through with any links offered to participants. A participant may remove his or her application from the program at any time.

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About the Author(s)

Paula Mohr

Editor, The Farmer

Mohr is former editor of The Farmer.

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