Land access may be difficult in rural areas where vacant land suitable for starting a small farm is hard to find. Vacant farmsteads dot the landscape but many are abandoned family homes which are part of a larger plot still being farmed. In some cases what appear to be vacant outbuildings are used for storage by the owner or a renter. Nostalgia runs deep in rural areas and family members want to hold onto “the home place”. Remote owners often keep their small farmstead as a place to escape to the country for a short time. Don’t let this dissuade you. Know your farm plan and share it with confidence.
Access to land is one of the biggest challenges facing new farmers. Many rural areas are focusing on how they can help a new farmer build a successful operation. Rural communities rely on strong rural economies to survive. New farmers, new businesses and new families all support rebuilding stronger rural communities. This Farmstead Toolkit is evidence of the desire of this region’s efforts to develop innovative and creative strategies to connect vacant land with interested farmers, tools and resources to help you succeed.
Federal Funding for Accessing Land
USDA’s Farm Service Agency provides a variety of Farm Loan Programs to support farm ownership and operation, including microloans of up to $50,000. FSA offers loans to help farmers and ranchers get the financing they need to start, expand or maintain a family farm. Their Farm Loan Discovery Tool helps you learn about USDA farm loans that might be right for you.
Eligible applicants are agricultural producers. Visit your local Farm Service Agency office for more information on who qualifies as an agricultural producer.
See the “Applying for a Federal Grant” and “Visiting the Farm Service Agency” sections to prepare for your first FSA visit.
Your local FSA office can help you determine the right farm loan opportunity.
Resources for Accessing Land
One way your local FSA office can help you connect with farmland is connecting retiring farmers with new farmers. FSA also maintains a list of properties for sale . Beginning farmers are given first priority to purchase these properties at appraised value. Your local FSA office may also know of properties coming available for sale in your desired location.
Contact your local county officials. The County Auditor or Treasurer may know of delinquent tax property that may be coming available for sale. The county’s Road Superintendent may also be a resource to help you identify and locate vacant farmsteads. To find properties listed for sale contact a local realtor. Website searches may also point you in the direction of farmland available. LandWatch, Lands of America, Land and Farm, Farmers National are all examples of companies that post land listings.
Land Selection Tips
Before purchasing land you will need to understand your goals. Consider your financial, production and quality of life goals. Your goals will help you determine the size, location, climate, structures, soils, water resources and topography. Penn State Extension has a Farmland Assessment Checklist can be used as a guide to examine prospective farm properties.
Land may be one of your largest outlays of money. Once you find land you are interested in, here are some things you might want to consider.
Price. Is the price affordable for you? How does the price of land pencil into your business plan? The price you pay for land will be part of your startup expenses and will impact your start up loan. Your financing partner will help you determine whether you can afford the land.Is the price reflective of the value of the land? North Dakota Department of Trust Lands conducts an annual survey of farmers and ranchers. Their report presents the average price of rented land by location. NDSU Extension and Ag Research News provide both average per-acre values of cropland and average cash rent. Pifer’s Auction, Dakota Auctioneers and ZBS Auctioneers are local land auctioneers who are also a good resource to help you understand the average cost per acre of land in your area. They may also have some insights on equipment you might need as well. A step in your lending process will include obtaining an appraisal on the value of the land and outbuildings.
Size. The type of crops you plan to grow or the type of livestock you intend to raise will guide the size of farmstead to look for. Crop or livestock options are limited by what the land can support.
Location. Distance to the nearest town, agricultural markets and farm or feed supply stores should be considered. Can you easily get to the farmstead? Is the farmstead land locked? What are the roads like? Are there roads? Farm roads need to accommodate large machinery like tractors and trucks. Will anything pose a risk to your crops, livestock or family? Is the farmland adjacent to a major highway where fumes or dust might impact crop production? Are there industries nearby that pose risks to your crops? For example, crops may grow under windmills but animals may not graze. What do your neighbors grow? Could crop spraying drift kill your crops? Do you have access to water for animals? Understanding your needs will help you sort through desired traits of land you consider.
Climate. Climate affects growing season. Growing season limits what crops you can consider for your small farm operation. Climate related budget impacts for livestock farmers may be outbuildings, access to fresh water and increased feed.
Structures. Fences, equipment storage, silos, barns, machinery sheds, production or packing facilities, refrigerated storage or sheds and habitable housing are important factors in both the startup and operating budget of a farm. Understand what structures you need for your particular farm operation. These will change based on the type of crops you grow or livestock you raise. Evaluate the cost of working with existing structures on a potential farmstead versus building the structures later.
Water. A critical resource for any farm operation is water. Access to quality water will impact the type of crops or livestock your farm operation can successfully support. Water may be available from ponds, streams or wells. Typically water from municipal sources will be needed for your home. Water will be discussed more in the Infrastructure Section.
Soil. Research the land’s previous use to find a farm with healthy soil. Land that sat unused for long periods of time may not have many nutrients left for crops. Land that was used for industrial purposes may have contamination. The types of crops you grow will be limited by soil conditions. Each county has a soil survey that can inform you on the type of soils most typically present in the area. The Web Soil Survey provides soil data and information that can be used for general farm planning. More information on soils is covered in the Production Section.
Topography. Crops or livestock will lead you to the topography best suited for your farmstead. Most crops prefer soil that drains quickly after a rain shower. Some crops grow better on south facing hills, some require shade and some need large flat areas. Animals may not be as impacted by changing topography but potential injuries from steep hillsides may be a concern for both your animals and you as you tend to them. Seek topography that matches the needs of your farm operation.