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The 2024 Conference Season Begins (plus, grant openings and landowner-focused events)!

By Bonnie Warndahl


Historically, from January through about March, most staff at ag-related organizations are busy making their rounds to regional farming conferences and staff retreats. However, “conference season” seems to be stretching its boundaries these days. In the Midwest, this last season started early, with the BFRDP Project Leaders conference in Denver in October, then the Emerging Farmers Conference in early November, followed by the Farmland Summit in mid-November. January 2024 kicked off with the Minnesota Organic Conference and coming just around the corner is the Women in Ag Conference, the Organic Vegetable Production Conference in Madison, Wisconsin and the Grassworks Grazing Conference in Wisconsin Dells, and of course the Marbleseed Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse. 


Last weekend I had the pleasure of co-facilitating a roundtable discussion for landowners at the Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) Conference with Martha McFarland, Senior Farmland Viability Coordinator at PFI. The session was listed as follows: 


Successful land tenure—whether it’s on 10 acres or 200 acres—requires more than matching someone who has land with someone who wants to farm it.   Land seekers and landowners come to the table with different hopes and expectations, and it’s important to take steps that ensure everyone’s needs are addressed. Join our roundtable to prepare yourself for your land connection. 



These sorts of sessions at conferences are the core of the work we do at the Farmland Access Hub, as well as any organizations supporting farmers. Martha and I welcomed an enthusiastic group at our roundtable, eager for ideas about how to provide tenure for incoming farmers while also protecting their land, their legacy, and their ability to live out their final years on the land they hold so dear. It’s not an easy nut to crack!


ABOVE: Martha McFarland (left) and Bonnie Warndahl (right) participating in a panel at the 2023 Upper Midwest Farmland Summit. Photo by Sara George.


In preparing for the roundtable, we had several discussions about the intricacies of land access work—namely how the relationships of the people involved so strongly affect the outcomes. It’s not just about one farmer providing tenure to another—there is much to consider, including the financial and family needs and dynamics of both the tenant(s) and the landowner(s); how the land is cared for; the timeline each needs to achieve their goals; and so much more! 


There is a lot of focus on landowners these days. Those that hold the land hold the power and if the next generation of farmers stands a chance, landowners today are charged with the high responsibility of making sure it stays in nurturing hands. There are many efforts to build up the resources to support land transition planning, including those of the “Engaging Landowners” working group, facilitated by The Hub. I have been facilitating meetings with this group for over a year and a half, exploring effective methods of landowner outreach and engagement. Some of the outcomes of this work have been in-person networking events between landowners and landseekers.


Coming up in a couple of weeks we will be hosting two separate webinars for landowners called Your Farm’s Future Steward: What to consider before making your land available to the next generation. The focus of these virtual events is to provide a supportive space for landowners to explore options and ask questions to get them moving toward a future plan, particularly in regards to their land receiving a new (and successful) tenant. 


There is more information and registration links on the Hub’s website and also listed in the “Events” section below!


Do you know of any landowners ready to transition or provide secure tenure? Please send them my way to get their profile listed on our “Available Farms” page! Email bonnie@rtcinfo.org or call 612.462.9311


While we’re on the topic of landowners wanting to provide tenure, you may want to set aside some time to read this story about a Minnesota farmer David Lindig, who is looking for his land’s next stewards. 


Stipulations of his plan were that he doesn’t want just one owner, he doesn’t want it to go to someone who already owns land, and he doesn’t want the land to be conventionally farmed.”



If you have trouble with a paywall on this article you can access the google document at the link below.


Dave Lindig sits upon a rock border he created many years ago on a hill overlooking the Otter Tail River valley, near Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Michael Johnson / Agweek



 

Request for Proposals: Hoch Orchard & Gardens, La Crescent, MN


American Farmland Trust (AFT) and Renewing the Countryside (RTC) are seeking a farm buyer for Hoch Orchard & Gardens, a 60.77-acre Orchard near La Crescent, Minnesota. The Orchard will be sold subject to an agricultural conservation easement, which will limit future subdivisions and restrict the use of the property to agricultural uses. The effect of this easement will be to reduce the Orchard’s sale price and make the property more affordable for a farmer to purchase. 


Follow this link to read more about Hoch Orchard and submit a proposal!



Hoch Orchard & Gardens—A Once in a Lifetime Opportunity!


By Brett Olson


Hyperbole? Perhaps that depends, especially if you are from Minnesota.


As farmers, we tend to be skeptics, investigators, and willing to wait and see what happens, yet happily holding onto a good deal of optimism and openness to serendipity. I suppose that is indicative of farmers everywhere in the world. All this is to say that we are offering a pretty good deal for the right farmer (see how I pulled back on the reins a little there?). 


RIGHT: An apple lane at Hoch Orchard & Gardens. Photo submitted by Harry Hoch.


What’s the deal? 


OK, cutting to the chase. We (American Farmland Trust and Renewing the Countryside) are now accepting proposals from potential farmers/entrepreneurs to take over Hoch Orchard & Gardens in La Crescent, Minnesota. This farm has over 10,000 mature trees on 60 acres—mainly apples but also pears, plums, apricots, raspberries, and a few other fruits. 


The majority of fruit is sold fresh wholesale and directly to consumers. Hoch Orchard is also a licensed winery and produces estate-grown wines and hard ciders, alongside other licensed fruit products from an inspected commercial kitchen. The main processing building has good cleaning, storage, and shipping logistics in place. The value-added manufacturing equipment for wine and consumer-packaged goods is satisfactory. There are outbuildings for machinery and livestock. Additionally, there are two manufactured homes on site, one of which was used for seasonal farmhand housing.


The orchard is located 20 minutes from a regional hub city (LaCrosse, WI—population >50,000) which has a University of Wisconsin Campus and many desirable “quality of life” amenities, 30 minutes from Winona, Minnesota, and 2.5 hours from both the Twin Cities and Madison, Wisconsin. 


The fair market value for the property and infrastructure is in excess of $1,000,000.00. However, the Hoch family has donated roughly half of that value in an agricultural easement with the American Farmland Trust. This means a farmer can buy the entire enterprise for a significantly reduced price. 


What exactly does the easement do? In short, the easement restricts the land for agricultural use, basically taking away the new owner's ability to mine the property for minerals or fossil fuels (no worries there— the “driftless” area of Minnesota has none of these amounting to a whole lot of value). It also means the new owner will not be able to develop the land as a big-box retail store or housing subdivision. 


Could the new owner still develop the property with an event facility or wine-tasting room? Yes (depending on the zoning codes at the time). 


Could the new owner develop other agritourism activities like camping, hunting, or a wedding venue? Sure! those all sound wonderful! (Again - all specifics need to be cleared with local zoning authorities).


What is the catch? Well, tasting rooms, wedding venues, u-pick orchards, realizing the full potential for value-added products like wine and cider, etc... will all take additional investments. 


So why not just get a realtor and list it on MLS? Because this is not just a fire sale of property. The Hoch family is keenly interested in a farm transition that will be robust and profitable for the new farmer(s) but also respects and honors the life work of building and fostering one of the region's largest organic fruit farms. 


Want to get the ball rolling? Read more about what Hoch Orchard has to offer and the application process here: https://www.farmlandaccesshub.org/hoch-orchard-gardens


That’s about it. If you have experience as an orchardist and/or in farm financial management, a desire to grow the agritourism and value-added fruit products side of the business, and a commitment to growing clean foods and protecting the soils, water, and community environment start your application today!



July of 2023, Harry Hoch gives Renewing the Countryside's Farmland Access Specialist Bonnie Warndahl a tour of the orchard's established raspberry beds. Video recorded and directed by Bonnie Warndahl.


Contact bonnie@rtcinfo.org or 612.462.9311 with any questions. 


 

Urban Farming News and Survey Requests

FSA/NRCS Urban Farming Grant + New Urban Ag Committee


Renewing the Countryside is excited to work with USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and other partners to enrich urban agriculture in the Twin Cities metropolitan area through 3 new Urban Agriculture micro-grant opportunities. Eligible applicants include individuals/farms, community gardens, and People’s Garden. 


The application period for all three micro-grant programs are expected to open soon. In the meantime, if you self-identify as being (or having been) a farmer in an urban or suburban setting anywhere in Minnesota, we kindly ask that you complete a brief 10-minute online survey developed by Indiana University.\

 

The purpose of this study’s survey is to understand participation and non-participation in land transfer programs, including Minnesota’s Beginning Farmer Tax Credits, by farmers in the rural-urban interface.

If you are at least 18 years old and would like to participate in the study (only $10 gift cards), please follow this link: https://iu.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_7NH1Pv2HxfXPeBg

We thank you in advance for your response. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact the researcher, Dr. Shellye Suttles, at shelsutt@iu.edu.


Urban Farm Survey—Minnesota Department of Agriculture


MDA Announces Additional Farmland Succession Support





A new position will assist farmers and landowners with transfer planning


St. Paul, MN: Farmers and agricultural landowners looking for assistance in creating succession plans for their properties have a new support available through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA).


The MDA has hired Jim Molenaar as its farmland access and succession teams coordinator. In this newly created role, Molenaar will advocate for and guide farmers and ag landowners through the succession process, bringing in additional outside team members that are necessary for success. These team members could include, but are not limited to, legal experts, accountants, and farm business management (FBM) instructors. There is no cost for this service for those who participate.


“I’m thrilled to partner with the MDA to provide this support to Minnesota’s farmers and producers,” said Molenaar. “The transfer of farmland to the next generation is integral to the future of agriculture in Minnesota, and I look forward to leveraging my experiences to help farmers and their families successfully transition their legacies.”


Molenaar is an experienced and trusted advisor on the topic of succession and farm ownership. In addition to his new role, he works as a Farm Advocate for the MDA, where he offers one-on-one assistance for Minnesota farmers who face a crisis caused by either a natural disaster or financial problems. He is also a retired instructor for the FBM program.

According to USDA, the average age of Minnesota farmers has reached an all-time high of 57.4 years.


This new position is just one tool the MDA provides to help transfer ag land and operations to beginning and emerging farmers, ensuring the continued strength and resilience of the state’s agricultural economy. Its FarmLink program brings together those who are looking for ag land, farming operations, or mentors with retiring farmers and landowners who want to see their farms or farming operations continue. The agency also offers the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit and the Down Payment Assistant Grant programs.


Molenaar’s contact information, as well as further details about the MDA’s other land access and succession tools, can be found on the agency’s website.


The farmland access and succession teams coordinator position is made possible with support from the Southern Agricultural Center of Excellence.


Minnesota Beginning Farmer Tax Credit—Applications Now Open


MDA is now accepting applications for the beginning farmers tax credit. This program provides annual state tax credits to landlords and sellers (asset owners) who rent or sell farmland, equipment, livestock, and other agricultural assets to beginning farmers. Funding is limited and tax credits are funded on a first-come, first-served basis. Learn more and apply at the link below!



LOFF Grant Applications Now Open


Lakewinds Food Co-op is excited to announce that the Lakewinds Organic Field Fund (LOFF), is kicking off its 12th season this year, and applications are now open! 


Sustainable and organic farmers in MN, western WI, and northern IA can request grant funds up to $8,000 each to help with projects on their farm that improve efficiency or safety, boost environmental stewardship, help with transitioning to organic or gaining certification, or other projects that benefit the farm. Applications for the 2024 Lakewinds


Organic Field Fund (LOFF) grants are being accepted January 1-31 at Lakewinds.coop. Application materials are available in Spanish, Hmong, French, and Somali, in addition to English.

 

Find out more and submit your application at lakewinds.coop/community/loff/  


 

Mark Your Calendar—UPCOMING EVENTS!

 


Webinar for Landowners—February 6 and 13






Title: Your Farm’s Future Steward: What to consider before making your land available to the next generation.  


Description: Are you interested in renting your land to a beginning farmer? Is it time to start thinking about transitioning your farm to a new steward? What should be considered—and where do you begin? 


Please join the Farmland Access Hub for an introduction to making your land available to the next generation of farmers. This online event is FREE for farmland owners in the Midwest and beyond.


Whether you are interested in renting, selling, or transitioning your farm to a new owner, the information provided during this 1-hour program is geared to help landowners and retiring farmers start thinking about the next steps for their land. Goals include: 

  • Reaching a deeper understanding of the issues around farmland access—and how landowners can take the reigns in addressing this dilemma head-on.

  • Discovering the unique needs and challenges of current and future farmers to help ensure a successful rental contract or ownership transition. 

  • Learning about the resources available to aid in planning for bringing new stewards onto the land. 


Participants will hear about both the land-seeking farmer and exiting-farmer perspectives when it comes to farmland access. All are welcome to attend the optional 30-minute Q&A following programming. 


Bring your questions and your curiosity to one of two online events (or both), which are offered at different times to increase accessibility to attendees. 


Webinar 1: Tuesday, February 6, 2024 from 5:30–6:30 p.m. (optional Q&A 6:30-7:00 p.m.)



Webinar 2: Tuesday, February 13, 2024 from NOON–1:00 p.m. (optional Q&A from 1:00–1:30 p.m.)



Event host: The Farmland Access Hub


Partners: Land Stewardship Project; Renewing the Countryside; Region Nine Development Commission


Land Stewardship Project—Webinar Series for Landowners: Preparing for conversations with landseekers about rental, sale, or ownership transition








 

Feb. 1st- March 8th- 5:30–8:00pm online (register through the above link)



UMN Women in Ag Conference


The theme for the upcoming Extension Women in Ag Conference is Planting Possibilities: Shaping the Future of Farming.


The conference will provide insightful discussions and dynamic presentations specifically geared toward farmers on the pivotal role of "planning"—a cornerstone of any farm business, including topics relevant to farmland access and transfer.


The Extension Women in Ag Conference will be from 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, February 6, 2024, at the St. Cloud Holiday Inn. Whether you're a beginner, future, mid-career or seasoned farmer, industry professional, or agriculture enthusiast, this conference is your platform to delve into the diverse realms of planning within the agricultural sector. 

For more information and to register, go to z.umn.edu/WomenInAg2024. 


Minnesota Department of Agriculture—Winter 2024 Multi-Generational Farm Transition Retreats


Join University of Minnesota Extension for hands-on planning and discussion on farm transition for the whole farm family. All generations actively in the farm should attend the retreat together, including spouses, partners, and other relevant parties.

Pick the location most convenient for your family. All retreats are Friday 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.


  • Mankato: February 23-24, 2024

  • St. Cloud: March 8-9, 2024

  • Crookston: March 22-23, 2024


To register, contact Nathan Hulinsky, hulioo13@umn.edu or 320-203-6104.

Learn more at this link: https://www.mda.state.mn.us/farmlink


PFI Beginning Farmer Retreat, February 10






This free retreat is a daylong intensive for beginning and aspiring farmers to learn from experienced farmers and farm business coaches. With time for individual reflection and networking, retreat topics will include business models and structures, business plans, panel discussions and a Q&A with experienced farmers by enterprise.




Marbleseed 35th Organic Farming Conference



The Marbleseed (formerly MOSES) Organic Farming Conference is widely known as the largest organic farming conference in the United States. Every year regenerative and organic farmers from a wide range of farm sizes, experiences, and backgrounds gather to learn the latest in organic farming methods, build community, and shape the future of the organic farming movement.


Whether you’re certified organic, using organic practices on your regenerative farm, or considering the switch to organic, you’ll find the people, partners, and skill-building opportunities to help your farm business thrive.







 

Remember, if you are a landseeker needing help with securing land tenure, or a farmland owner needing help with rental or transfer, you can fill out the respective intake forms for assistance at http://www.farmlandaccesshub.org/getstarted. Alternatively, you can contact us directly by emailing or calling:


Landseekers—> Katie Kubovcik | katiekub0908@gmail.com | 651.528.0608


Landowners—> Bonnie Warndahl | bonnie@rtcinfo.org | 612.462.9311


Thanks for reading!











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