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Hard times could be ahead for rural school districts that spent federal pandemic money on teacher salaries, a former Oregon lumber community drafts a climate-action plan and West Virginians may soon buy raw milk from squeaky-clean cows.

WI experts: A strong lease could help ease land woes for new farmers

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Tuesday, February 6, 2024   

Farmers who produce the food we eat don't always own the land that food is grown on, including in Wisconsin. Those trying to get their operations off the ground are being given tools to ensure more certainty about where they can do the work.

More than one-third of Wisconsin farmland is leased, according to federal data. Kelly Wilfert, a farm-management outreach specialist with the University of Wisconsin Extension, said renting land is the only real option for new and emerging farmers.

That's because current market conditions put owning property out of reach, and these people also have to invest in things such as new equipment, creating even bigger disadvantages.

"Land is very expensive when you're competing against farmers who have assets already built up that they can leverage in order to afford that land," she explained.

Her team is trying to educate smaller operations about the dynamics of leasing agricultural property, and what their rights are. With ownership changing hands as more family farms disappear, Wilfert said it's important to make sure you have your lease in writing with clear terms. She added being more vocal about conservation practices you might deploy could help get a break on the rental cost.

Steve Okonek, regional educator with U.W. Extension, said lacking social connections in a farming community you're eyeing for production is another barrier.

"Especially if you're a new person coming into a neighborhood," he said. "It can be very difficult - it comes down to networking."

Okonek advises people to treat their quest for land almost like a job search, where establishing trust and familiarity might result in more leads.

This outreach comes as the nation sees an influx of beginner farmers trying to get a bigger share of the market. In the most recent Census of Agriculture, there was a 17% increase in the number of farmers with less than five years of experience.


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