Washington program looking for farmland - Farmlink seeks to match up owners of property who would like to sell or lease land to aspiring farmers
“People are looking for farmland all over the state,” said Mary Embleton, director of FarmLink, a program that connects farmers with people who want to enter the business.
Embleton said she not only gets calls from Washington residents about available farmland but also from such far-flung states as Iowa, New York, and Pennsylvania. Closer to home, people in Oregon, California and Colorado have also contacted her.
Formed in 1998 and officially launched in 2000, FarmLink’s current challenge is to increase the number of farmers and rural landowners on its roster. It currently has three times the number of people looking for farmland to buy or lease as it has landowners with that sort of property.
When the program began, it had an equal number of farmers and aspiring farmers.
Embleton explained that while it’s fairly easy to inform aspiring farmers about the program through workshops and other educational opportunities, it’s more of a challenge to get the word out to farmers or other rural landowners.
“I think it’s important to let landowners know that there are a lot of people who want to get into agriculture,” she said. “Our goal is to help them do that.”
Many people who contact FarmLink are looking for 10 to 40 acres, with the average size sought 20 acres or larger. But there’s also a growing number of people who want 100 acres or more, with some of them interested in raising organic beef.
While many want to be on the west side of the state, others want to be on the sunnier side of the mountains.
Over the past several years, FarmLink has successfully connected farmers with aspiring farmers, providing the first step toward business transactions that have led either to leases or sales.
With the program continuing to grow, Embleton wants to let more farmers know about the program and the benefits it can offer.
She points out that in many cases, a landowner with property that’s underutilized or lying fallow would benefit from entering into an arrangement that would put it back into production.
Besides the joy of seeing the land flourish again, there’s also the financial benefit of leasing or selling the land. And in some counties, there are tax advantages for land in active agriculture.
“For farmers or rural landowners sitting on the fence, not sure about whether they should sell the land or not, leasing it to someone who wants to farm it is a reasonable consideration,” Embleton said.
In one of FarmLink’s success stories, an organic grower who wanted to expand his operation and a former dairyman looking for a tenant entered into a lease arrangement several years ago.
Andrew Stout, owner of Full Circle Farm in Carnation, Wash., started on just three acres. But as demand for his produce grew, he knew he needed to find some land to lease.
At the same time, former dairy farmer Bill Knutsen had 80 acres of nearby land available.
He knew that the decline in dairies in King County was going to make it hard to find another dairy tenant.
Through FarmLink, Knutsen and Stout were put in touch with each other, and the upshot was a successful lease arrangement.
“For me, it works extremely well,” said Knutsen. “I think we have a great relationship.”
Stout agrees. “The lease was critical to my farm’s expansion,” he said. “It’s been fantastic. I feel very fortunate.”
Since then, Full Circle Farm has grown into a thriving enterprise that provides produce to premier grocery stores, fine restaurants and numerous farmers’ markets. It also delivers boxes of produce to 100 Community Supported Agriculture members each week.
Stout praises FarmLink’s role as an intermediary between farmland owners and new farmers.
“That first step is the hardest step,” he said. “You don’t want to settle for something that’s not right for you just because you don’t know what’s available. It’s nice to have a wide open view of what’s out there.”
He highly recommends the program to farmers. “For a farmer, it’s not always easy to find the right tenant,” he said.
FarmLink also provides the opportunity for creative partnerships and arrangements. A case in point is Michelle Coda, a Boeing project manager, who has some newly acquired land in eastern Skagit County that she’d like to see in farming under some sort of partnership arrangement.
“I see this as a blank slate,” she said, referring to about eight acres of land near the Skagit River that has been fallow for about 10 years.
Although Coda is growing about 3,500 Northwest native plants in pots on the property, she’s not interested in farming the land.
“I’m older,” she said. “I couldn’t physically keep up. But I could do the marketing and off-farm work. I could sell food raised here at the farmers’ markets in Seattle. This could be a perfect arrangement for a new farmer getting established.”
For more information about FarmLink, call Embleton toll-free at (877) 728-9453.
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