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More Beginning Farmers, Despite Iowa Farm Declines

PHOTO: The number of farms in Iowa continues its downward trend; the USDA reports another 500 were lost from 2013 to 2014, but the state has an enthusiastic crop of beginning farmers. Photo courtesy of Lucky George Farm.
PHOTO: The number of farms in Iowa continues its downward trend; the USDA reports another 500 were lost from 2013 to 2014, but the state has an enthusiastic crop of beginning farmers. Photo courtesy of Lucky George Farm.
March 16, 2015

DERBY, Iowa - The latest figures show the number of farms in Iowa continues to fall, but that isn't slowing down a new crop of beginning farmers looking to reverse the trend.

About two years ago, Angela Johnson, co-owner of Lucky George Farm, and her husband quit their corporate jobs, cashed out a 401-K and began a conservancy livestock operation outside the town of Derby, in southern Iowa. Johnson says they did so to be able to provide a legacy along with good, healthy food for their children.

"What we're trying to do is just do everything as natural as possible that would've been done in a way with - about 100 years ago or so, our great-great-greats would've farmed the way that we do," says Johnson. "We wanted to do it because we see that that's the future for our family."

The Johnsons raise endangered breeds of livestock across multiple species and one of their Large Black pigs was used by a chef who recently won a regional cooking competition.

There are many challenges to getting a start in agriculture, from finances to marketing and more. Johnson says key to their growing operation has been the advice and help from other producers and groups, including Practical Farmers of Iowa.

"We have found a network of individuals who are like-minded and willing to accept the challenges through PFI," Johnson says. "We have networked with other market farmers so that we can learn from them, learn from their mistakes. Our social network has really been the thing that's helped us along."

According to the USDA, the number of farms in Iowa fell by 500 last year to 88,000, although that is still the third-highest in the country, behind only Missouri and Texas.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - IA