Easing Entry For New Farmers

Programs help new farmers buy acreage while preserving farmland.

By Marilyn Cummins | Photos By and Brittanie Collier

A year ago this December, Brittanie and Andy Collier closed on 124 acres of farmland, 5 miles from their home in Trappe, Maryland, on the Eastern Shore. The young couple had been looking for five years, thwarted by high land prices and tight capital.

Brittanie and Andy Collier with daughter Makenzie.

“We’ve always wanted to live on a larger property and raise our children in a country lifestyle,” Brittanie says. She and Andy are both in their early 30s and work full-time jobs, and both have side interests that need land to grow. Andy, an avid hunter, will raise switchgrass to sell for hunting blinds. Brittanie will grow flowers for use in her wedding planner and design business. They’ll partner with a local grain farmer on the rest of the tillable acres, until they’re ready to take over after they retire in about 20 years.

The Colliers achieved their dream as one of the first families helped by the Next Generation Farmland Acquisition Program administered by the Maryland Agricultural and Resource-Based Industry Development Corp. (MARBIDCO). The state funds the program to permanently preserve agricultural land while assisting new farmers with farm purchases.

MARBIDCO pays up to 51% of the qualifying parcel’s fair market value as a down payment in exchange for an option to buy the permanent conservation easement on the land, says Stephen McHenry, MARBIDCO’s executive director. The large down payment helps the buyer qualify for a commercial loan for the balance. “Then the young farmer is provided a period of time to sell the permanent conservation easement to one of the preservation programs we have in Maryland, and presumably the young farmer receives enough money for the permanent easement to repay the Next Gen program and pocket the difference.” Easements that are not sold in seven years revert to MARBIDCO.

McHenry says he believes Next Gen, funded at $2.5 million per fiscal year, is the first state program to assist new farmers directly with land acquisition. The USDA is studying Next Gen as a potential model program to help young farmers while preserving farmland. Many states—including Vermont, Massachusetts, Delaware and Rhode Island—have mostly loan programs to help young farmers, as well as active land preservation efforts. In Canada, there are calls for proactive national and provincial programs to help speed the entry of new farmers as the farming population there ages.

“The Next Gen program really is something there is a very big need for out there, for young people who want to get into the industry,” Brittanie says. “I also think it’s just a good trade-off that the land is protected; so in a sense, that’s a service to everybody.”