You might say it's a new kind of farm crisis. At the time of Iowa State University's "Farmland Ownership and Tenure Report in Iowa, 2012", fifty six percent of Iowa farmland was owned by people over the age of 65 and thirty percent was owned by those more than 75 years old. During the past 55 years the number of Iowa farms has decreased from 206,000 to 89,000. Iowa farmland prices doubled between 2007-2012 making it very difficult for farmers to get started or for renters to purchase land when land lords die. Seen together, these startling statistics point to the now present and growing farm crisis- the challenge of land transfer.
Map of My Kingdom, a one-man play commissioned by Practical Farmers of Iowa and written by Iowa Poet Laureate, Mary Swander, highlights this new farm crisis and serves as a catalyst for discussion and action. A performance of Swander's play has been organized by the Carnegie Cultural Center and is being presented for area residents through generous sponsorships from Humanities Iowa; Bank Iowa: Lawler, New Hampton, Waucoma & Fredericksburg; Insurance Associates of Lawler; Bob and Phyllis Boeding, Kennedy & Kennedy law firm of New Hampton, David E. Burns: Lawler Farm Center & Blue River Hybrids, Good Shepherd Catholic parishes as well as the Cultural Center. The play will be performed on Sunday, June 14, at 2:00 pm in the restored barn on the Ed and Eleanora Blazek farm, 1755 Ridgeway Avenue in Chickasaw County ( 3 miles north of Lawler). Refreshments will be served following the performance and audience members will be invited to join in a discussion and share their own challenges, successes and resolutions regarding property transfer. Since the issues to be addressed are common to anyone dealing with property or estate issues, the event will be also relevant for non-farmers. There is no admission charge.
In conducting interviews and doing research for writing the play, Swander found that some families had given thoughtful attention to the issue of land transfer. Others tried to push it from their minds..."The kids (or "my heirs") will have to figure it out." Still others who thought they had a solution found it didn't work out the way they had hoped. It is a difficult issue all around. The older generation is forced to face their own mortality and conflict and tension are inherent in decision-making for the next generation.
Mary Swander herself experienced the conflict when, years ago, she and her two brothers inherited the family farm. Her brothers wanted to cash out and take the money while she did not. Sadly for Mary, the farm was sold to a corporation without a trace of its homesteading past preserved.
If you own farmland, now is a good time to think through what you value most. Do your heirs know your long-term goals for your land? Do you want your children to continue the farming operation? Do you want the farm kept together and continue as farmland? Is future conservation of your land important to you? Would you like your church or another organization to benefit from your farmland?
Persons from all generations are encourage to start thinking and be participants in resolving these important issues on their own personal level by attending the Map of My Kingdom event.
For more information, contact the Carnegie Cultural Center at 641-394-2354 or visit the website www.carnegieculturalcenter.org
Photo: Iowa Poet Laureate, Mary Swander, incorporates the real-life stories of farm families' experiences with land transfer issues into her play Map of My Kingdom, including that of Chickasaw County farmers, Tom and Irene Frantzen.