Newsletter of ATTRA National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service: A program of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). This issue of ATTRAnews is available online.
Farm Transfer Tools: Promoting Sustainable Practices
Adapted from Conservation Financing for Farm Transfer, by Hannah Lewis and Jane Grimsbo Jewett
Many landowners, whether retiring from a lifelong career of farming or inheriting land from parents who farmed, want to leave a legacy of conservation and sustainable agriculture. As a landowner, you may be looking for ways to pass on the farm to a farmer and/or new owner who shares this vision. For retiring farmers and off-farm landowners alike, there are many ways to do this, depending on the value and priorities of the particular landowner.
For instance, some landowners want to keep the farm in the family, while others hold this as a lower priority or perhaps don't have a family heir. Another consideration is the extent to which landowners want to stay connected to the land over time. Farmland transfer involves transferring equity, management, and income potential to the next generation. Some landowners are ready to part with all of these rights and responsibilities at once, while others prefer a more gradual process, or perhaps depend on the income from renting the land. Whether transferring the land by selling, leasing, gifting, willing it through an estate plan, or a combination of these methods, landowners can include provisions to encourage and/or ensure conservation practices.
Still another goal landowners may have—and one that may tie in nicely with the desire to promote sustainable agriculture—is to help a beginning farmer get started. While often a limiting factor for beginning farmers is lack of land and capital, they can in exchange offer: energy; time; a certain level of knowledge, skills, and experience; a shared commitment to sustainability and conservation in some cases; and access to USDA beginning farmer loans and related resources.
So, what can the landowner do to encourage sustainable agriculture in the process of a farm transfer? Here are a few suggestions:
Selling a Portion of the Land to a Sustainable Farmer
Contract for Deed
Agricultural Conservation Easement
Deed Restriction or Restrictive Covenant
Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts
Forming a Business Entity to Facilitate Farm Transfer
Creating an Educational Farm
USDA Conservation Programs
For a more detailed description of these options, refer to the ATTRA publication Conservation Financing for Farm Transfer.
Beginning and Maintaining Sustainable Practices
Adapted from Valuing Sustainable Agriculture Practices, by Robert Maggiani and Jane Grimsbo Jewett
You want to be a good steward of your land, and you want the people who come after you — family members or not — to practice good stewardship, too. What will it take to really make that kind of legacy happen? Listed below are 10 common sustainable agriculture and conservation practices that can help you make this legacy happen.
Soil Fertility Management
Water Quality Management
Alternative and Specialty Crops
Perennial Forages and Grazing
Pollinator and Beneficial Insect Habitat
For more detailed information, see the ATTRA publication Valuing Sustainable Agriculture Practices.
Farming sustainably means growing crops and livestock in ways that meet three objectives simultaneously:
Sustainable agriculture depends on a whole-system approach whose overall goal is the continuing health of the land and people. Therefore, it concentrates on long-term solutions to problems instead of short-term treatment of symptoms.
This article focuses on Economic Sustainability. To learn more about Social and Environmental Sustainability, see the ATTRA publication Applying the Principles of Sustainable Farming.
Selecting Profitable Enterprises to Ensure Economic Sustainability
Economic sustainability increasingly depends on selecting profitable enterprises, sound financial planning, proactive marketing, risk management, and good overall management. The key for row-crop producers may be to explore income opportunities other than traditional commodity crops, such as contract growing of seed corn, specialty corn, food-grade soybeans, or popcorn. These specialty crops are not for everyone; only a certain number of acres can be grown because of limited markets. Expanding organic markets suggest another possible niche. "Alternative" crops like safflower, sunflower, flax, and others may be an option for lengthening a corn and soybean rotation; learn more in the ATTRA publication Alternative Agronomic Crops. Other examples of diversification strategies are available in the ATTRA publications Evaluating a Farming Enterprise and Moving Beyond Conventional Cash Cropping.
Author and successful small farmer Joel Salatin advocates going with several "centerpiece" enterprises to which can be added several "complementary" enterprises. The complementary enterprises overlap with the centerpiece enterprises by sharing some of the same overhead requirements, thus lowering overall costs for all the enterprises. When we try to produce a single product such as wheat, corn, or soybeans our risk is high because "all our eggs are in one basket," says Salatin. When we integrate plant and animal agriculture, we distribute overhead and risk among several enterprises.
Comprehensive Financial Planning Is a Must
The holistic financial planning process empowers people to make decisions that are simultaneously good for the environment, the local community, and the bottom line. Learn more in the ATTRA publication entitled Holistic Management: A Whole-Farm Decision Making Framework. Also evaluate other financial planning tools that allow enterprise budgeting, cost calculations, partial budgeting analysis, and more—these should be available from your local Extension agent. Business planning software is available from local software retail stores.
Economic Sustainability is an important part of an overall sustainable farming enterprise. Sustainable farming meets economic, environmental, and social objectives simultaneously. Managing economics, society, and environment simultaneously depends on clear goal-setting, effective decision making, and monitoring to stay on track toward the goal.
Here is a sampling of ATTRA publications and resources related to Beginning and Promoting Sustainable Practices. Be sure to check out our new and updated publications, too!
You can find lots of resources on beginning sustainable farming at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/local_food/startup.html.
New and Updated Publications
See the full list of ATTRA publications at https://attra.ncat.org/publication.html
Call 800-346-9140 for a printed copy. Prices vary. Many resources are free.
ATTRAnews is the newsletter of the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. The free newsletter is distributed throughout the United States to farmers, ranchers, Cooperative Extension agents, educators, and others interested in sustainable agriculture. ATTRA is funded through the USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service and is a project of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), a private, non-profit organization that since 1976 has helped people by championing small-scale, local and sustainable solutions to reduce poverty, promote healthy communities, and protect natural resources.
Carl Little, Project Manager
Comments? Questions? E-mail the ATTRAnews editor Karen Van Epen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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