The cost of farmland rose over 7% this year, pricing many farmers out of the market. This comes as the U.S. deals with an aging farmer population, causing many to wonder who will grow the next generation’s food supply.
In Iowa, the Shivers Farm has been producing beef and pork for six decades.
“The corn that we grow, this corn, will go right back into the cattle along with the hay,” Emily Shivers said. “It’s hard work. But we feed you. We feed America.”
Midwest farmers have been dealing with a severe drought in Spring and Summer and now costs are adding pressure. They’d love to buy more land, but the prices are becoming unaffordable, and developers are turning farmland into neighborhoods.
“There’s some ground just right over here, behind our farm, that butts up to our farm that sold for 25-$30,000 an acre. Just last year. It’s hard. We can’t compete with that. Developers can compete with that, but we as farmers can’t,” Shivers said.
USDA data shows the average price of farmland in the US is $4,080 dollars per acre. In Iowa? $9,930. In California, it’s $12,400. And in New Jersey, an acre of land goes for about $17,700.
More than 80% of the worlds corn and soybeans comes from Midwest farms. Prices for corn and soybeans surged in 2021 and 2022. Farmers made more money, invested in land, and drove up the cost of it.
“Increasing costs are certainly making it harder and harder for any beginning farmer to get started,” Martha McFarland, with Practical Farmers of Iowa, said.
McFarland connects farmers looking to retire with beginner farmers looking for land. She said there is land in northwestern Iowa going for $12,000 to $14,000 an acre.
“There is no way that I ever would have been able to do that without family land to get started,” McFarland said about her 260-acre farm raising bison and cattle.
Will Cannon, a third-generation farmer but a first-generation full-time farmer and a director for the Iowa Corn Growers Association, says farms are getting larger, and it takes about 1,000 acres to have a decent standard of living.
“Farmers just keep getting older and older, because they’re the ones that can afford to own the land and operate the land right now,” Cannon said. “In Iowa, the average age of the farmer right now is 60 years old.”
Cannon partnered with an older farmer and when the farmer decided to retire he was able to buy out his equipment and rent his land. Not all beginner farmers are that lucky and he says it’s challenging to find enough older farmers to mentor the new generation.
“It’s almost like a marriage where you really have to work together to be able to make that work. And anyone who has a business that has a business partner understands that. It’s no different here in farming in agriculture, but it’s finding out how to get those people to jive together,” Cannon said.
Cannon says some absentee landowners will rent the land to the highest bidder, sometimes switching renters every year. When farmers know they only have the land for a year, they may cut corners to save money. This can cause long-term damage to the land and prevent future farmers from growing on it.
“There’s not a lack of people who are interested in being able to farm. It’s a lack of opportunity,” Cannon said.
Iowa Congressman Zach Nunn and Texas Congresswoman Jasmine Crockett introduced legislation this week that would simplify requirements for USDA loans for beginning farmers and expand support for new farmers.