Author: Natalie Danielson, Friends of Family Farmers; Sarah Vaile, Farm Commons; Ashley Rood, Oregon Climate & Agriculture Network; and Megan Fehrman, Oregon Community Food Systems Network’s Beginning Farmer & Rancher Working Group

Publish Date: Winter 2021

Farm transfers are tough. There’s an emotional connection to the land and to growing food that adds a deep layer of complexity to the challenge of passing on a small business. The average age of farmers in Oregon is 60, yet over 80% of Oregon’s farmers don’t have a succession plan for their farm. At the same time, finding and accessing farmland creates a significant challenge for beginning farmers and ranchers who are not positioned to inherit family land. The future of Oregon’s farms and food system depends on finding successful ways of passing land on to the next generation.

Guided by successful models in other states and the variety of expertise on our collaborative team, Oregon Community Food Systems Network’s Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Working Group launched a year-long pilot program in the fall of 2019 aimed at addressing the need for more technical assistance for land transition and in accessing land. What better way to explore and understand the type and depth of technical assistance required than working closely with real farmers and landholders?

Despite a short application period, there was a solid response of sixty applicants and after an interview process, the final candidates were chosen. The goal was to understand the full spectrum of technical assistance needed to serve both young farmers looking for farmland as well as retiring farmers looking for a new farmer for their land.

Over the past year, Advisory Committee members spent hours providing assistance on all aspects of farmland transition, including help searching for land, reaching out to interested new farmers, securing financing, developing business plans and agreements, writing leases, and other legal aspects around leasing and purchasing land and succession planning. The chosen participants have been busy clarifying their vision for their farm, actively engaging in discussions with potential matches and communicating regularly and openly with the Advisory Committee about their needs as they go through this arduous process.

By the end of the Pilot Project, the selected Land Holders in Dufur had successfully found a young couple to live on their property and lease the second house and farmable acreage to develop a business of their own. Both parties received consultation and assistance in setting up the lease and working through their agreements.

The trio of Land Seekers (two sisters and a partner) hold onto their vision to run a diversified farm including flowers, seed, and raising livestock while stewarding the land through responsible land management. They believe in the important work of growing good food for our communities and would love to work with a landowner who shares this sentiment and desire to keep their land in agriculture. They are currently still looking for the ‘right’ piece of land in a few areas of Oregon while having put their business plan and operating agreements together, and are working with Northwest Farm Credit on farm financing options. Together, this group of land holders, land seekers, and agricultural service providers are discovering what a comprehensive land connection program in Oregon might look like so that we can ensure a solid future for agriculture in Oregon. Organizational partners are currently coming together to assess what was learned from the Pilot Project and looking at next steps to design and develop a more robust program for our state.

Project partners include the Oregon Community Food System Network, Farm Commons, Friends of Family Farmers, Rogue Farm Corps, Oregon Agricultural Trust, the Headwaters Incubator Program, Ecotrust, Oregon Food Bank, Oregon Climate & Agriculture Network, and the Oregon State University Center for Small Farms & Community Food Systems. For more information, please visit Oregon Farm Link, the Oregon Community Food Systems Network, or email farmlink@friendsoffamilyfarmers.org for more details.