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A website that connects farmers with folks interested in farming is being developed by the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust as a way to ensure farmland in the region remains fruitful.

Higher land prices and encroaching development are raising the hurdle that young or new farmers must clear to get started in the business, said Susan Koehler, farmland programs director at the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust.

Koehler said the trust wants to connect "farm seekers" with farmland owners through a new website, called Farm Link, where users can learn about sustainable agriculture and land preservation, as well as ways land can be transferred through leases, sales, apprenticeships or conservation.

While the program is new to the Ozarks, its roots run deep up north. The blueprint for the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust's version stemmed from a number of Farm Link programs in New England, including Maine, Vermont and Connecticut. What they do is allow farmers to make property postings, get alerts from people seeking land to farm and access to helpful resources and materials, among other services, according to Land For Good, a farmland nonprofit based in New Hampshire.

It's like an online marketplace or dating service for farmers, Koehler said. They are similar in that users describe what their goals are, their properties, farming experience and other details on their profile pages, and connect with each other, she said. The educational component sets it apart. The land trust offers resources such as land agreement templates or papers on different types of farming, she said.

While the program is good for arranging farmland sellers with potential buyers, it can also be used for pairing new or young farmers with mentors, Koehler said. Regardless of farm experience or residency, anyone interested in working a farm can create a profile about themselves and their business or farm goals on the website. Municipalities, corporate or absentee landowners are also welcome.

Guy Ames, an organic fruit farmer in Fayetteville, said the website was a great idea. He said he commonly gets questions from aspiring farmers looking to access land.

"It's so difficult, it's so expensive to get started, especially in a town like Fayetteville," Ames said.

To get around this, internships and incubator farms are available for aspiring farmers seeking to work and live on a farm without having to put money down, he said.

Another common hurdle farmers face is finding someone to take over for them. Of the nation's farmers thinking about retirement, about 30% have found successors, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

Koehler said the Farm Link program will help with that.

Northwest Arkansas farmers, on average, are more than 56 years old, USDA census data show.

"Instead of a farmland owner having to stop all of a sudden," apprentices can agree to learn with them, she said. "Maybe there's lease payments of increasing responsibility with the one day, hopefully, perhaps, purchasing it."

In addition, an online "bulletin" will be available for users to post opportunities for jobs, such as custom tractor and equipment work, Koehler said.

Farm Link will contain farmland information for Benton, Carroll, Madison and Washington counties. The Northwest Arkansas Land Trust does work in 13 counties in the region, but the Farm Link program is limited to those four counties.

The program was made possible by a Walton Family Foundation grant, and the website is being developed by Simplemachine in Bentonville. The Northwest Arkansas Land Trust is recruiting interested farmland owners and seekers for Farm Link. More information is available at info@nwalandtrust.org or by calling (479) 966-4666.

Business on 09/14/2019

Print Headline: Website to link farmers, hopefuls

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