How can Virginia farmers keep their land in production after retirement? How can young farmers in the state acquire land and experience? The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has a program that answers both questions.
Virginia Farm Link allows retiring and aspiring farmers to connect via an online database. The program also provides funding for farm transition workshops that assist farmers with the transition of their assets to another generation or to a new aspiring farmer.
“Farm Link provides an opportunity for the interests of farm owners to be matched with those of farm seekers,” says Andy Sorrell, coordinator of the Office of Farmland Preservation for VDACS. “Many retiring farmers are looking for options beyond selling the farmland for development. They may want to sell or lease to another farmer to preserve the production of the land. Having a way to link them with other farmers who are looking for opportunities to expand or to begin a business is a plus for the farmers and the agriculture community.”
Helping farmers make those connections is a good start, but VDACS saw the need to do more. In 2012, they partnered with the Virginia Farm Bureau Young Farmers and the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition to establish the Certified Farm Seekers (CFS) program.
“CFS is designed to provide farm seekers with the tools they need to demonstrate their farming commitment and vision to interested landowners,” Sorrell says. “The program uses a curriculum developed by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition at Virginia Tech to help farm seekers develop a business plan and other important skills.”
Sorrell explains that completion of the CFS program provides a level of confidence for both the farm seeker and the farm owner. “It gives the younger farmers a path to success by helping them to establish shortand long-term goals, and it gives the retiring farmers peace of mind knowing that the seekers are serious about the profession.”
With 280 active farm seekers in the database and only 28 active farm owners, Sorrell says the program is working to increase the number of landowners on Farm Link. A recent update of the website makes the database more user-friendly, he says. In addition, Katie Myers, coordinator of CFS, makes personal connections with landowners to learn more about their operations and the kind of match they are looking for.