IMG_0007_2Maryland FarmLINK is gaining traction as a web tool to help farmers gain access to land, either by purchase or lease, thanks to land owners, realtors and farm support groups interested in continuing agriculture and forestry in Maryland. Our website picked up 595 new members in FY ’14, an increase of 82%. The number of monthly visits to the site increased by 65% to 5,087 by the end of FY ’14, with the majority seeking farmland.

We cannot tell you how many transactions occurred because communications between land owner and seeker are confidential. However, I am aware of a number of successes and they are attracting more interest.

Helping Beginning Farmers 

Our hope is to  connect all types of farms being offered for sale or lease with farmers who wish to farm them. That includes large-scale farm operators, hobby farmers and beginning farmers looking for their first farm to lease or own. However, I have to admit being most excited when we can help a beginning farmer get started.

Earlier this week, the National Geographic posted an article, American Farmers are Growing Old, With Spiraling Costs Keeping Out Young. Their story happens to occur in the cherry region of Northport Michigan where I vacationed this summer and posted a blog. The NG article highlights the challenges of beginning farmers and a couple who appear to be making it despite the spiraling costs. As with Michigan farmland, Maryland averages approximately $7,000 per acre, more than most beginning farmers can afford.

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 6.48.00 AMOn the Maryland FarmLINK website, we ask those seeking farmland to complete a survey. Of those surveyed,  33 of the 76 are 34 and under in age and 64% have been farming 10 years or less. Most are hoping to have a diversified operation, including vegetables and livestock.

While farmers surveyed would like to own their land, roughly 40% of those surveyed would consider a lease and another 25% would actually prefer a lease.

That is why I am so glad to see a significant increase in properties being leased that are posted on our Maryland FarmLINK site this year. By far the largest offering of properties for lease occurred  when a real estate group posted 26 farms on the Eastern Shore totaling 3,500 acres this month. An agent at the firm reported that they have been showing properties to beginning farmers. Bids are due October 15th.

A website is just a website; a vehicle for opportunity. It is farmers, land owners and agents

Beginning farmers on the Sassafras Creek Farm Tour last month

Beginning farmers on the Sassafras Creek Farm Tour last month

who really care about farming who make the difference. Quoting Wendell Berry, “it all turns on affection.” Affection for the soil, for animals, for growing things, for real, honest labor—these are what is bringing young adults and young retirees back into agriculture. And it is affection for people, and passing on the opportunity for farming, that propels land owners, extension folk, Farmlink people, realtors and others to make the improbable connections so that the next generation of farmers is ready. In Maryland, we are steadily gaining ground!