As a farm transition specialist of Iowa State University’s Beginning Farmer Center, David Baker works with families to coordinate a farm succession plan. He helps families plan their transition from one generation to the next.

Now Baker and his wife, Cindy, are going through their own transition.

"We became landlords instead of farmers (this year)," Baker said, standing close to soybean fields he once farmed.

Spenser and Sara Taylor bought the Baker’s acreage near Lake Park and moved in last November. A cattle and crop farmer, Spenser approached David about renting the pasture for his cattle and the ground to grow crops. The Bakers made the decision to allow the Taylors to rent not only the pasture, but farm as well.

"I didn’t even put the farm out for bids. Nobody really even knew that we were going to rent it out," Baker said.

Though the men hadn’t formally known each other, their families had a long history in the area.

Baker began farming the Skow farm, his great aunt and uncle’s farm, after getting out of the military. While in the Air Force, Baker wrote letters to area farmers, including his great uncle, asking about the possibility of renting the farm. His great uncle agreed and he was able to end his military career and to return to the farm in March of 1979.

One of their neighbors and some of their kids’ first babysitters were Earl and Betty Lou Taylor Baish, Spencer’s grandparents.

Family ties

Fast forward a few decades, and Taylor had the opportunity from his grandfather to begin farming. "From a young age, both sets of grandparents farmed. I was in 4-H and right away took an interest in livestock," he recalled.

He was involved in FFA, and worked to build his herd.

"One thing led to another and my grandpa rented me an 80-acre field."

He slowly worked into buying more cattle and renting more ground," Taylor said.

The Bakers moved to Des Moines to be closer to family. They put the acreage up for sale, but kept the farm ground. The Taylors bought the acreage and then talked to David about renting the pasture and the possibility of renting the farm.

"I’m glad that Spenser and Sara came to me and talked to me about if it was a possibility to rent the farm," Baker said. "Really it started with the pasture, and I just decided, you know, it’s just as well. They’re going to be living here, he deserves the farm ground, too."

"I was absolutely interested," Taylor said.

Baker knows a lot of young farmers, many of whom might have been qualified to rent his farm, but he said he saw something special in the Taylors.

"It was a family connection and the ability to utilize the Beginning Farmer Center and the beginning farmer tax credit," Baker said. "Those were important criteria."

The next generation

But more than that, though, Baker saw an opportunity to bring in the next generation to farming in the area as Taylor works to buy the farm.

"We were given the opportunity (to farm when we were young), so we were ready to turn around and give the opportunity to someone else to have a chance," Baker said.

Livestock a key

Additionally, Spencer’s interest not only in growing crops but also cattle farming was also positive, Baker said.

Raising cattle helped Baker and his family grow their farm. "I think livestock is the key for any young person," he said.

And like the Bakers, the Taylors also have off-farm jobs.

Spenser works as a technician for the Dickinson County Conservation Board. Sara works as a nurse at Spencer Hospital.

Taylor said there are plenty of challenges for young farmers trying to get their start in farming, especially finding land.

"My grandpa had retired from farming when I was like four years old, so I didn’t step into an active operation. It’s been ground zero," he said.

He’s worked with his grandpa to rent land and gradually grow the number of acres he farms, and he’s learning as he goes, he said. "You just have to slowly buy what you can afford." And you might have to get creative, he said.

"You have to be a little bit diversified and think outside the box. I think there are still a lot of opportunity for young farmers, but you might have to take a calculated risk and be willing to run cows on cover crops if that’s what it means. Try to build some of your own equity along the way," he said.

Through Baker and ISU’s Beginning Farmer Center, he’s learning about programs and loans that can help him as a young farmer.

Despite the challenges as young farmers, Spenser, 26, said he and Sara are excited to be on the farm raising their 4-month old son, Cal.

"We’re very fortunate the way things have worked out so far," Spenser said.

Baker said he’s happy, too. "I feel very comfortable and secure knowing they have the ability and support of their family to make it happen here," he said.