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Iowa program aims to usher in next generation of farmers

Portrait of smiling farmer using smartphone and tractor at harvesting. Modern agriculture with technology and machinery concept

AMES, Iowa – Iowa farmers have been busy with the spring planting season. As operations hire workers for the summer, a nonprofit connects them with aspiring ‘ag’ professionals who could represent the industry’s future labor force.

For nearly a decade, the group Practical Farmers of Iowa has carried out its Labor-4-Learning initiative, where participating farms provide on-site training for anyone looking to break into the field.

The group’s Next Generation Coordinator Celize Christy said these paid positions not only give hands-on experience for typical farm tasks, but also offer guidance in business management.

She said these are crucial skills for someone who didn’t grow up on a family farm.

“I think the family farm is definitely one avenue, but it’s not accessible to all,” said Christy. “And so for those who don’t have that path carved out for them – you know, it’s like, what do they do?”

There’s no age limit to apply; the program sees adults who are between careers, but many college-age students also express interest.

Efforts like this coincide with a possible retirement wave among Iowa farmers. An Iowa State University survey shows 60% of Iowa farmland is owned by people 65 and older.

Christy said that’s why it’s important to have a stable workforce, to keep growing the food Iowa has long been counted on to produce. She added the program is an opportunity to attract would-be farmers who want to learn environmentally sound practices from their mentors.

“They’re definitely wanting to ensure sure that the land is being stewarded in a way that is beneficial not for the next season, but really, for the next generation,” said Christy. “That benefits not only the farm and what the farm grows, but really, the ecosystem in the farm.”

Supporters of these initiatives say people hired for farm labor don’t always get this specialized training, leaving them at a disadvantage for starting their own operations. Other advocates say the industry needs to embrace more technology to attract younger generations to farming.

The organization vets each participating farm before being certified as trainers.

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