Beginning Farmers and Training Programs

The 2012 USDA Ag Census shows that the average age of farmers in Iowa is 57.1 years old. There are four times more farmers over the age of 65 than under the age of 35. Who is going to farm?

Given the current price of conventional commodities, can most beginning farmers make a living with a conventional corn-soybean operation? Furthermore, land and equipment prices make the capital investment for a beginning farmer to start a conventional row-crop operation from scratch nearly impossible.

Local food farming can provide opportunities for beginning farmers. Fruit and vegetable operations and niche livestock production offer the chance for new farmers to ramp up with lower capital investment. Fewer acres and smaller equipment are necessary for local food production.

This short video explains how local foods provides new opportunities for beginning farmers.

ISU Extension and Outreach Publications

The Resource Guide for Beginning Farmersbeginning farmers is an informational manual for beginning and aspiring Iowa farmers. The curriculum in this manual is divided into three parts: production practices, post-harvest handling, and business planning/basic finances. Each module is organized by learning objectives and includes narrative, hands-on activities, and links to worksheets and additional resources.


Below is a list of Iowa-based organizations that support beginning farmers. Some are geared towards a specific target population, while others include all beginning farmers.

Practical Farmers of Iowa

Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) is a farmer-led, member-driven nonprofit organization. Their members have indicated their top priority is getting beginning farmers on the land so Iowa family farms will continue generation after generation, providing healthful food, profits to families, healthy ecosystems and vibrant communities. PFI runs several programs geared towards beginning farmers, including webinars, conferences, a farmer-intern matching program (Labor 4 Learning), and a land-matching program (Find a Farmer).

Contact – Steve Carlson,

ISU Beginning Farmer Center

The Beginning Farmer Center specializes in farm transitions. The Center also houses Ag Link, a service to help preserve the family farm business by matching beginning farmers who do not own land, with retiring farmers who do not have heirs to continue the family farm business.

Contact Dave Baker,

Women, Food and Agriculture Network

WFAN’s mission is to engage women in building an ecological and just food and agricultural system through individual and community power. One of the programs they run is Harvesting Our Potential – an internship program that places aspiring women farmers on working Iowa farms with experienced female farmer mentors for 8 to 12 weeks during the growing season.

Contact Bridget Holcomb,

Veterans in Agriculture

Iowa’s Veterans in Agriculture is a non-profit organization that gathers farmers, veterans, agri-business professionals, educators, and other service providers dedicated to empowering veterans to thrive in Iowa agriculture.

VIA has programs and resources for veterans aspiring to farm. They provide guidance to veterans seeking employment in agriculture and rural areas. They are a network for sharing experiences, disseminating resources, and identifying collaborations.

Iowa Agricultural Development Division 

Obtaining enough capital to pursue a career in production agriculture can be challenging. But if it’s your dream to own and manage your own crop or livestock operation, the Iowa Agricultural Development Division (IADD) may be able to lend a helping hand.

Contact Steve Ferguson

Lutheran Social Services, Global Greens Refugee Farm

Global Greens is an agricultural program that coordinate land access, production education and business development training for refugees in the Des Moines metro who want to reconnect with the land.

Community Gardens – in partnerships with the City of Des Moines, organizations and private landowners, LSI helps connect refugee families to small garden plots near their home.

Incubator Farm – Global Greens houses Iowa’s first incubator farm program. Beginning market farmers take the first step by cultivating a larger 50’ x 50’ plot of land. Advanced market farmers then move to a ¼ acre sized plot and receive intensive training on crop production, business development and marketing to help them turn their passion into a profitable business. Farmers mainly sell their products through farmers markets and the Iowa Food Coop.

Contact Mickey Goggin,


David Baker photo 2012Dave Baker – Beginning Farmer Center.

Dave is the farm transition specialist for the Beginning Farmer Center. He travels across the state consulting with families wishing to pass on their farm operations to the next generation of farmers and ranchers. Email Dave.

Emily CollEmily Coll, FFED

Emily is the farmer profitability specialist for the team, and consults with individual farmers on enterprise budgets and other tools. Email Emily.

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