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How do you start farming without owning land?

TAGS: USDA
How do you start farming without owning land?
Expert lays out alternatives to those who want to get into agriculture.

Beginning farmers face definite obstacles when plunging into the business of growing and selling food. Some of these farmers begin without the most basic necessity of the industry—that is, the minimum land acreage required to keep a herd or sow a field.

Related: USDA designs new web tool for beginning farmers and ranchers

Poor cash generator: Those who bought farmland decades ago may have made a good investment, but farmland has never been a good cash producer, Craig Dobbins says. (Photo courtesy of John Deere archives.).

Farmers who have not inherited farmland, do not already own it or simply don't have funds to obtain it, find themselves in a difficult situation as farmland prices increase. Compounding the issue, only a very small percentage of existing farmland will be available for new ownership in the next five years, according to the 2014 National Agricultural Statistics Service survey. But some Purdue University experts say there are strategies and resources available.

Craig Dobbins, a Purdue University Extension specialist in ag economics, says that in terms of strategy, beginning farmers or existing farmers looking to expand their operations have a few options.

"Given the price of farmland, if you're a beginning farmer, you're not going to be in a position to borrow a lot of money to buy a bunch of land," Dobbins says. "Farmland is a poor cash generator relative to what you spend to get it."

Farmland prices are down a little from their peak in 2014, but only by about 5% to 10%. Dobbins says new farmers need to think differently and creatively when trying to establish their businesses. One of the ways to do this is by reaching out to established farmers or investors.

Related: Access To Land, Capital Biggest Hurdle For Young Farmers

"You might want to consider getting linked up with a farmer thinking of retiring in the next five to 10 years and try to convince them that you are a worthy partner," he said. "Another approach would be to try to convince some investors who want to invest in farmland that you are the right farmer to do the work."

Both of those options require trusting relationships with people of greater means, so if a beginner is not well connected, that may not be the right strategy. Dobbins suggests that farmers can work together by creating joint ventures into the business where capital, land and labor can be shared to some extent.

If those options do not hold appeal, Dobbins says renting land is a place to start.

Hopkins is a senior in Purdue University ag communications

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