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Iowa young farmers seek legislative change

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A new state law would enable the state’s agricultural exemption to apply to all farms regardless of size. HSB 239, sponsored by Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, is a response to the current needs of beginning farmers in Iowa.

The bill would allow small scale sustainable farming ventures access to the agricultural exemption from zoning. If approved by the Iowa legislature it would improve farm economics for beginning farmers and enable efforts such as on-farm education, events and markets that allow for consumers to experience, understand and appreciate the farms where food is grown.   

Rep. Kaufmann a beginning farmer himself states: "We need farmers on the land now. In Iowa from 2013 to 2017 we lost 1600 farms. We don't have a lot of time to change the tide. This young farmer bill will bring young people back into farming. I intend to push it through this session."

Kate Edwards, a young vegetable farmer following organic practices, explains, “Our states water quality is dependent on creating opportunities for a proliferation of small sustainable farming operations. As a young farmer, I need access to the zoning and building code exemptions in order to make an economically viable farm.”  

In the latest census, the average age of farmers in Iowa increased to 58 years and 35% of landowners are over 75. Changes to the Iowa Code are what we need in Iowa to allow more young farmers on the land.

Many young people want to farm in Iowa, but face barriers to entry. A lack of capital leads young people to start on smaller acreages and grow higher value specialty crops.  With the low margins in agriculture, if farms on smaller acreages aren’t considered ag exempt, it can make farming cost-prohibitive. These barriers are often greater and more complex for certain groups including people of color.

Farms in Iowa, by state law, are exempt from zoning and building codes.

“Without this exemption, row-crop and livestock farmers wouldn’t survive economically and specialty crop farmers need to be granted this same exemption.”  Wade Dooley, a sixth-generation farmer on a Century Farm in Marshall County said.

While larger farms have these exemptions, counties have not been uniformly applying this to smaller specialty crop farmers. After years of addressing this on the local level, young farmers across the state have realized that this issue is facing small sustainable farmers statewide. Updates to the Iowa Code are needed to serve all modern farmers.