Farm Seeker program helps farmers get started or expand

Do you want to be a farmer, or expand your existing farm?

If so, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs’ (VDACS’) new Certified Farm Seeker Program may be just what you are looking for.

“The new program is designed to help all levels of beginning and experienced young farmers who want to begin farming or to expand their existing farm,” says Matthew J. Lohr, VDACS commissioner.

“It will help farm seekers develop a farm business plan and professional resume, as well as demonstrate on-farm experience,” says Lohr. “Agriculture is a business; in fact, it is Virginia’s largest industry. And like any other business, would-be farmers need a sound business plan as a first step on the road to their goal of farm ownership. The CFS Program will assist them with this important first step.”

The program will be introduced at Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers Conference in Lynchburg Friday, July 27 and will last through Sunday, July 29. It will also be discussed at the Farm Link and Transition Pilot Workshop set for August 4, 2012 in Weyers Cave.

The Certified Farm Seeker Program uses five curriculum modules:

  • Introduction to Whole Farm Planning – The main objective of the introductory module is to brainstorm why, what and where seekers want to farm. They will get a dose of the reality of establishing a farm enterprise by exploring motives, resources and personal goals relating to the farming industry.
  • Business Management – This module provides the main start to creating a business plan. In this section, farmers will establish strategies for all financial matters, including input costs, risk management, loan acquisition and budgeting.
  • Land Acquisition and Tenure – This module contains different options to allow for maximum customization. The General portion is required for all farmers. Options include Leasing, Farm Succession for Transitioning Farmers and Hybrid. Each option contains a brief description in order for participants to determine where he or she best fits.
  • Marketing – The Marketing module answers pricing, promotion and distribution questions. Its main objective is to create a market strategy based on original goals and plans in order to specifically address production needs.
  • On-Farm Experience – The CFS program stresses the need for practical, hands-on experience. The On-Farm Experience module requires individuals to raise a sampling of the crops and/or livestock they have included in the whole farm plan.

“The program also plans to provide significant incentives to Certified Farmer Seekers, including cost-share for professional review of submitted business plans; an enhanced profile/visibility on the Virginia Farm Link database; invitations to social events where farm owners and Certified Farm Seekers can get to know each other and cost-share for attorney/mediator fees incurred as part of the farm transition,” says Lohr.

He explains that the program was created due to an increase in interest from people who are committed to farming but need land and other assets either to get started or to expand.

“Farm seekers may be looking at farming for the first time, or they may have a farm background and experience but still lack access to land, equipment and other assets.” Lohr says.

“Farming is not an easy career to start or succeed in, but many of us in the agriculture community are looking at ways to make it easier for new farmers to ease their way into the business, or for experienced farmers to access new or additional land.” Lohr continues. “The Farm Link program developed by the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation in conjunction with our Office of Farmland Preservation strives to put the farm seeker in touch with someone who has a farm to sell, to play matchmaker, as it were.

“I am very optimistic about this new program and believe it can fill a great need in Virginia and in other states. We need farms and farmers for food, fiber, wood products, green spaces, wildlife habitat and a high quality of life.

“We are interested in assisting all of these farm seekers,” Lohr concludes.

For more information on the Lynchburg or the Weyers Cave workshop, interested participants should contact Ron Saacke at 804.514.4202 or ron.saacke@vafb.com. Additional information on the Certified Farm Seeker Program is also available at vdacs.virginia.gov/preservation/seeker.shtml. For a realtor who can help you find land for farming, see Real Estate on  Eye on Greene’s “Shop” page.

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