In previous posts, we have shared information about the renewed interest in farming and reported that approximately 78% of new farmers did not grow up on a farm. We also mentioned the need for more new farmers, with the number of farmers retiring and increasing demand for locally grow vegetables, fruits, and meats. In the Mid-Atlantic region , direct-to-consumer sales grew 74% between 1997 and 2007, more than twice as fast as total agricultural sales.

With the housing recession still impacting land values and more farmers retiring, one might suspect that it would be easier to find farmland for new farmers to work, lease, or purchase. So far, that has not been the case. According to Land Values, 2011 Summary by the Economic Research Service of the USDA, the average value of farm real estate in the U.S. was approximately $2,350 per acre in 2011, while the average value of farm real estate in Maryland is $7,200 per acre. The 2011 value is just 15% below a high of $8,500 in 2007 and it is over 200% higher than the national average. New farmers are finding it hard to find affordable farmland in Maryland, and even harder to find land to work or lease.

Providing realistic solutions for gaining access to land might call for innovative solutions. A new publication by University of Vermont’s Center for Sustainable Agriculture entitled Guide to Financing the Community Supported Farm may provide some solutions, such as owner financed sales, share lease agreements, and equity financing. These types of options should be studied to see if they could work in Maryland.

Selling easements or transferable development rights might also be a key to a successful land purchase. If that is the case, we are fortunate that Maryland has more county and state land preservation preservation programs than any other place in the country.  We are so pleased that 22 realtors recently took a class called “A Realtor’s Guide to selling farmland” at the Southern Maryland Association of Realtors last week, where we reviewed all the available land preservation options.

In any event, helping new farmers find access to land will not be easy, but it needs to be done if we are going to keep our farm economy growing.