Cows are seen at the Blomme family farm in Ladora, Iowa on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018. The farm, which produces corn, soybeans, pork, and beef, has been in the family for over 80 years. (Ben Allan Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Guest opinion: Support young Johnson County farmers’ land access


The 40-acre rule for Johnson County farms is cost prohibitive for beginning farmers, creating a void in the agricultural economy.

There is a huge need for more farmers, because Iowa’s farmer population is aging and a tremendous farmland transition is about to take place. Fifty-six percent of Iowa farmland is owned by people over the age of 65, according to Iowa State University. Thirty percent of Iowa farmland is owned by those older than 75 years of age. Fortunately, more than 2,000 people are coming to our organizations — Practical Farmers of Iowa, Johnson County Farm Bureau, and Renewing the Countryside Farmland Access Hub — to learn how to successfully become the next generation of farmers to produce our food and fiber.

In every Practical Farmers’ annual survey for the past 10 years, beginning farmers have identified that their biggest barrier is access to land. Together, we urge Johnson County to support ordinances that help these aspiring and beginning farmers access land and embark on these much-needed farming careers.

Currently, Johnson County zoning ordinances define a farm by size, not farming activities. To even be considered a farm, one must farm at least 40 acres. This 40-acre rule is cost-prohibitive for beginning farmers and keeps them from long-term land security, creating a void in Johnson County’s agricultural economy. We realize the 40-acre rule was not intended to create barriers for beginning farmers to gain land access. However, this brings unplanned negative consequence. With its current land-use plan, Johnson County has the opportunity to ensure all farmers are able to farm in this county.

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The current Johnson County Code contradicts the State Code, which ensures that all farmers of all land sizes are able to access land and are granted exemption from county zoning for their land, barns, and farm houses. Iowa Code: Chapter 335.2 states, “No ordinance … [regarding county zoning] applies to land, farm houses, farm barns, farm outbuildings, or other buildings or structures … for use for agricultural purposes.”

We appreciate that the Johnson County Board of Supervisors has committed to reviewing the 40-acre rule. We urge the supervisors to prioritize that the Johnson County Comprehensive Plan ensures that farms of all sizes are allowed this exemption without additional requirements.

Please provide the opportunity for young and beginning farmers to own farm parcels less than 40 acres and raise families on their farms while providing healthy food for your dinner plate and our community’s grocery shelves. Please make it possible for farmers of all types and sizes, including livestock farmers, row-crop farmers, vegetable farmers, and more to have the opportunity to farm. Johnson County is in the heart of one of the most diversified consumer food markets in the state. Consumers have many options in our supermarkets. Johnson County farmers are amazingly diversified in order to meet local, state, national, and international markets.

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We urge the Johnson County Board of Supervisors to ensure that the Johnson County Comprehensive Plan will prioritize access for beginning farmers. We encourage Johnson County residents to let their county supervisors know you value land access for beginning farmers as well. You can help more young people stay in Johnson County and commit to making a healthy and sustainable living off the land. Don’t we all want to see what our young people can accomplish by living here, raising families here, and helping to bring innovations to agriculture that helps them feed you while improving the land?

Sally Worley, executive director, Practical Farmers of Iowa

— Mark Ogden, president, Johnson County Farm Bureau

— Jan Joannides, executive director, Renewing the Countryside Farmland Access Hub

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