Networking, resources seen important for today's young farmers

Thursday, December 6, 2012
Ben Johnson (left), Ireton, chair, Iowa Farm Bureau Young Farmers, welcomes Matt and Angie Schnepf, of Oyens, to the kick-off event in Sioux Center. (Sentinel Photo by Jolene Stevens)

Considerable "positive feedback" and strong interest in additional meetings is how Kaye Strohbehn describes the response to the Northwest Iowa Young Farmers kick-off meeting in Sioux Center.

Strohbehn, agriculture/consumer education specialist, Iowa State University Extension/Outreach (ISU), said she and other members of the Nov. 29 event program committee were excited about the enthusiasm of young farmers attending.

The first meeting was attended by approximately 30 young farmers.

Young farmers Andy Schroeder (seated left), Remsen, and Scott Plendl (seated right), Le Mars, are joined by Trevor Kerr (standing left), Farm Service Agency, Sioux County, and Mark Bohner (standing right), IFBF, Plymouth County, to share ideas and goals of northwest Iowa's young farmers prior to the afternoon's networking sessions.(Sentinel photo by Jolene Stevens)

The program focusing on giving farmers age 35 and under a hands-up on their future farming success included a varied agenda.

Among topics discussed were those on "help" resources, making financial decisions and the importance of networking.

"What we have today is a new generation of farmers," Strohbehn said. "They find themselves facing a number of challenges, not only those of an economic nature, unexpected situations as with this summer's drought.

Dave Stender (left) ISU Extension swine specialist and Beth Doran (right), Extension beef specialist, visit with Mark Olson, a young Schaller area farmer, during the Extension/IFBF-sponsored Northwest Iowa Iowa Young Farmers' Kick-Off in Sioux Center Nov. 29. (Sentinel photo by Jolene Stevens)

"We want to be here to help," she said.

Dave Stender, swine specialist, ISU Extension, put it this way as he, too, considered optimistic response of the first program participants.

"Many of these individuals we feel are above average in their thinking and goals," he said. "We feel being able to mentor them early on can help in their success and leadership in agriculture.

Angie Schnepf, Oyens, receives her Natural Foods 'apparel' from the Harlan VandeHoef, plant sales and purchasing, as young farmers begin a tour of the company. (Sentinel photo by Jolene Stevens)

"It's refreshing to talk to these individuals and to share in their entrepreneur spirit," Stender said. "We at the same time realized what it takes today to begin farming. The bar has been raised from where it used to be.

"Today it's a matter of having some kind of an edge to get into farming and have capital available behind you to be successful," he offered. "Having a good attitude is another important factor."

Trevor Kerr, director, Farm Service Agency (FSA), Sioux County, joining in the afternoon's discussions pointed to possible federal programs available to aid the farmers.

"While we don't yet have a Farm Bill I think it's safe to say we do have a general idea as to what the future may hold," he said. "And for these young farmers, it's never too early to begin planning."

Among the current programs Kerr noted are those providing probable young farmer loan assistance and for conservation practices, which he expects to remain similar to their current status.

"It's important we be aware of what is available. Farming is a lot different today than 15 to 30 years ago," Kerr said. "And our young farmers need to know about the resources available."

Mark Bohner, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) regional director, agreed.

"You just can't go it alone anymore," he said referring to today's farming scenario.

"There's things like trying to rent farm ground at $400 an acre, maybe leases or creative financing. While we recognize there can be competitiveness in farming, we also realize the value of being able to bounce our ideas off someone else," Bohner said.

He observed that young farmers have as a strong point the physical ability to do the considerable labor which is part of the farming picture.

He said this has resulted in a number of them in northwest Iowa starting out with family assistance to be a part of the livestock industry.

Opportunities such as these have helped to make northwest Iowa the livestock area it is, Bohner added.

Ben Johnson, Ireton, chair of the IFBF's Young Farmer program, also took part in the afternoon's discussion.

Involved in hog and crop production Johnson said he feels his own earlier mentoring helpful into farming.

Several things, including the purchase of initial farmland, can be hurdles for the young farmer wanting to begin farming, Johnson said.

"Obviously it's hard to buy farmland if you don't have the finances available," Johnson said. "You'll need to make a connection with a landowner to get your foot in the door to start out or visit with a retired farmer.

"It's also important as a young farmer to be open-minded and willing to try different things, a niche that can work for you," he said.

A visit to Natural Food Packing Plant, of Sioux Center, and tour of the plant which processes antibiotic-free and natural meats were also on the day's agenda.