‘It’s still the dream’: Buying Minnesota farmland

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The first step to buying farmland in Minnesota is probably to already own farmland.

It’s expensive and difficult, making the entry threshold too high and risky for many.

Especially if you look at the strip of fertile acres south of the Minnesota River, the growing fields that gave rise to household names like Green Giant. The land there is known for its rich, black, productive soil and is not cheap.

“You’re not going to find a lot of young farmers buying land themselves,” said David Bau, a farm business management educator at the University of Minnesota Extension, speaking from his office in Worthington in mid -august. “It will probably be their parents who will buy the farmland.”

But for the rest of us foreigners, probably the first step towards buying farmland is deciding that you’re bold enough to go into farming itself. It’s backbreaking work, hot and uncomfortable in the summer. This can require tedious bookkeeping and strain nerves in the winter.

And it’s the most rewarding job you can find, if you can keep it.

“We are the married people who could never divorce,” said Mhonpaj Lee, a Washington County farmer. summarizing his relationship to agriculture, which has been his career for the past 15 years. “I always say, ‘Mom, we should stop farming!’ But as soon as we stop cultivating, we gain weight, we have bad cholesterol, mentally we need it.

But getting that farmland – especially for new, beginning farmers – is nearly impossible and often requires the help of outside, sometimes anonymous, benefactors.

More than ten years ago, Bryan Simon, who grazes goats on 217 acres of what he calls “one of the finest farms in Grant County” in western Minnesota, had an angel investor. In 2010, he and his wife, Jessie, were approached at a conference on sustainable agriculture by a couple who wanted to buy farmland for others to work on.

Two years later, the Simons were operating the farm. Five years later, they owned the place.

“We were very lucky; without a doubt, we are atypical,” said Bryan Simon. “Ours is not flat, square and black. But we had no intention of making conventional beef [or crops]. We wanted to do things differently with more sustainable agriculture.”

It was a similar story for Janssen Hang at the Hmong American Farmers Association – often referred to as the HAFA Farm – in Dakota County. During a decade ago, the co-op received good news when an anonymous donor volunteered to buy farmland along the highway. 52 to help them start over 150 acres of vegetable farms. Almost a decade later, after years of renting, they finalize the purchase of the land.

“Without long-term access to land, you’re always at the mercy of the landlord,” Hang said. The land in Vermillion Township allowed them to avoid “some of the obstacles that Hmong farmers have faced over the past 30 years”, Hang said, including abuse resembling the sharecropping era.

Much of Minnesota’s prized farmland remains off-limits to many small growers who are unable to bid cash in excess of millions of dollars to buy into the heart of productive farm country, where corn and soybeans are kings. In recent years, farmland has attracted larger investors, many of whom live far from farmland. As of 2021, tech billionaire Bill Gates is America’s largest farmland owner.

For decades, however, many small investors — often with family ties to Minnesota farms — have found acreage a proven, safe, and personally satisfying business. The brother-sister duo behind Fladeboe Land, a longtime Minnesota farmland selling brokerage, helps first-time investors and farmers navigate land buying by starting with what they know.

“For a lot of people, they start by looking at a place they know,” said Glen Fladeboe, co-owner and broker of Fladeboe Land.

After that? The type of soil.

“There’s a simple line in farmland real estate that says, ‘Flat, black and square,'” Fladeboe said. the planter takes strange angles.”

The USDA maps plots through an Agricultural Production Index, measuring soil nutrients. There are more kicks on farmland, including drainage and easements. Land with hills can lower the price. If it is plowed or irrigated, the price can also fluctuate.

“It takes tenacity to buy farmland,” said Kristine Fladeboe-Duininck, co-owner and broker. “But it’s doable.”

Last spring, as commodity prices for corn and soybeans hit decade highs, land prices inevitably followed. Land values ​​jumped 25% in southwestern Minnesota, with sales nearing $16,000 an acre in Rock County. The highest average rental rates in 2021 occurred in south-central Watonwan ($252 per acre) and Faribault counties ($244), according to the University of Minnesota Extension.

“That land will appear maybe once every 30 years or so,” Bau said. “So when you want the opportunity to buy that land, you have that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Some resources are offered to young people, beginners and small farmers, from state tax credits to loans. Sometimes help is not enough. Simon noted that when hundreds of acres become available in Grant County, locals will often guess which of the three largest landowners in the area will sweep the property away.

For Lee, whose farm a few years ago became the first Hmong-owned certified organic farm in the United States, she and her husband have taken advantage of USDA low-interest financing to overcome traditional barriers for new land buyers when Hugo bought their land. Now they are overflowing with zucchini.

“I have so many zucchini I could feed a village,” Lee said. “We are trying to find markets. We are trying to save the world from hunger.”

Lee isn’t getting any younger either, she lamented, noting that a recent volleyball game reminded her that her body — even in firm form — takes longer to recover from physical activity. But she loves the work and hopes to pass the farm on to her family.

“They’re scared of ticks right now,” Lee said of her kids.

But she hopes to one day build a house on their farm. She can do that. It is his land.

“It’s so expensive,” Lee said. “But it’s still the dream.”

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