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Mentoring new farmers

The hurdles beginning farmers face are many, from prohibitive land prices to hefty startup costs and the inevitable learning curve. For one group of beginning farmers, that curve will be less steep, thanks to help from Practical Farmers of Iowa and 31 seasoned farmers from across Iowa and surrounding states.

Through PFI’s Savings Incentive Program, or SIP, the veteran farmers are serving as leaders and mentors to the next generation, sharing a lifetime of knowledge, and offering the guidance and support they will need to succeed.

Key Points

Veteran farmers serve as mentors to next generation of farmers in PFI program.

SIP requires beginning farmers to make deposits into a farm savings account.

Program provides advice and assistance in developing a strong business plan.

Greg Koether raises grass-fed beef near McGregor. He is mentoring Karla and Todd Hanson of Monona, and says he understands the difficulties new farmers face. He experienced the same challenges at different points throughout his farming career as he sought to find the farm enterprise that was right for him. “Back then, though, there was nobody nearby to mentor me,” he says. “Several people were going through the same process, so we kind of mentored each other. If you’ve got someone experienced to talk to, it’s mentally comforting to be able to talk to them about what you’re going through.”

Besides matching mentors with beginners, SIP requires the beginners to make regular deposits into a farm savings account each month for two years, at which point PFI matches each farm’s savings dollar for dollar up to $2,400. Upon completing the program, participants could have up to $4,800 to use toward a business purchase. Enrollees are also required to complete a business plan, attend at least four PFI events each year of the program, live or farm in Iowa, and be PFI members.

A farm savings account

Michael Von Weihe, one of this year’s SIP recipients, is now in his third year growing fruits and vegetables near Carson in southwest Iowa. He is working to increase production on his farm and is in the process of obtaining organic certification. He says he’s excited that his mentor, Rebecca Bloom of Omaha, raises certified organic vegetables, too, and can help guide him through the complexities of that process.

“She’s great to bounce ideas off of. We’ve already met at her home and compared our organic applications with each other, and that’s really where she’s a great resource for me,” Von Weihe says. “She’ll help me know what they’re looking for in an organic application, saving me time and money.” Having someone come to your place of work and inspect what you’re doing “makes me really nervous,” he adds. “I haven’t been inspected yet by the organic certifier, but I know I’ll be contacting Rebecca and asking her what I need to know.”

Many participants also say they appreciate how SIP forces them to adopt better saving habits and provides vital assistance in developing a strong business plan. While the 2011 inaugural class comprised just 10 beginning farms, SIP expanded this year to admit 25 additional farms into the program.

The new enrollees are diverse in farm location and enterprise. Of the 25 farms admitted, 14 produce fruits and vegetables, eight raise row crops, six raise beef cattle, four raise poultry, four raise sheep, two are growing herbs, one has meat goats, two operate a dairy and one raises niche pork. To view profiles and photos of this year’s SIP class, visit and click “Next Generation,” then “Savings Incentive Program” and “2012 SIP recipients.”SIP is part of PFI’s Next Generation Programs for beginning farmers.

Source: Practical Farmers of Iowa

To learn more

Contact Marc Strobbe at PFI at 515-232-5661 or marc@practical
, or Tamsyn Jones at PFI is a supportive, diverse organization advancing profitable, ecologically sound and community-enhancing approaches to agriculture through farmer-to-farmer networking. PFI conducts farmer-led research and information sharing.

This article published in the July, 2012 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.