Farm transfer and land ownership issues are major focus of Practical Farmers’ 2015 annual conference – Jan. 23-24 in Ames

For Release: December 24, 2014

AMES, Iowa — Just a few generations ago, the question of farm transfer and the fate of family farmland – a complex and often divisive issue today – was a much simpler matter, says Cindy Madsen, who operates Madsen Stock Farm with her husband and son near Audubon.

“In the past, the farm automatically got passed down to the children, who inherited everything and were all involved in the farm,” Cindy says. “Now there are more obstacles. Today when a farmer retires, one child might be involved in the farm while the others aren’t interested. In some cases, the children who move away might have other careers but are still emotionally invested in the farm, while other people have children who couldn’t care less about the farm.”

When it comes time to transferring the land, she says these scenarios can lead to rivalries between parents and siblings, and disputes over what’s fair to all. “I’ve heard of cases where one child wants to keep farming while the others want the money from selling the farm – and the farming child doesn’t have the resources to purchase the land.

“But fairness issues go the other way too. In our case, we charge our farming son the same cash rent we have to pay because we want to be fair to the two sons who aren’t farming. If we gave the farming son a discount, that would lessen the inheritance for the other two.”

Learn about important farm transition topics you should consider, strategies for starting family dialogue, techniques for expressing your hopes for your farm’s future, and the key role landowners can play when there’s no family to transfer the farm to at Practical Farmers of Iowa’s 2015 annual conference, “Mapping Our Future,” Jan. 23-24 at the Iowa State Center Scheman Building, on the Iowa State University campus in Ames. The conference this year puts a special spotlight on farm transfer and farmland ownership topics, including:

  • A pre-conference short course (“Tell Your Story: The Farm Legacy Letter”), on Thursday, Jan. 22, from 1-7 p.m., and Friday, Jan. 23, from 8-11:30 a.m., at Oakwood Road Church, on the south side of Ames. Participants will hear two farmers share their farm legacy letters, then write or record their own letters documenting what matters most about their farms, and discuss ways to use the letters to help guide legal and financial farm transition questions.
  • A performance of “Map of My Kingdom,” a play about land transition that explores many of the thorny and emotional dimensions of farm transfer. Commissioned by Practical Farmers and written by Iowa playwright Mary Swander, the play tackles tough questions and difficult scenarios, from who will get the farm, to lasting disputes that dissolved family relationships, to peaceful solutions found by others.On Saturday, discuss what you saw during a follow-up session (“’Map of My Kingdom’: Follow-Up Discussion.”).
  • A Saturday morning breakfast session (“Non-Operator Landlords: Increasing Conservation, Helping Beginning Farmers”), where participants can take part in discussion while enjoying a free breakfast.
  • A session (“Farm Transfer with Farming and Non-Farming Heirs”), led by Cindy Madsen and a lawyer experienced in farm and estate planning, that explores some of the farm transition issues families should consider, including when some children want to farm while others don’t.
  • A session (“Innovative Landowner-Farmer Partnerships”) that explores the key role landowners can play in the success of beginning farmers.

All are welcome to attend. Register online at or by contacting Erica Andorf at or (515) 232-5661. Special rates are available for students and Practical Farmers members, and those who register by Jan. 15.

Gail Hickenbottom, a non-farmer from West Des Moines who serves on Practical Farmers’ board of directors, says farm transfer isn’t just an issue that affects farmers.

“Everyone should be concerned with whom land is transferred to, since land is one our most precious natural resources,” he says. “Now, as in the future, the capability of soils will help determine the successes for generations to come. If the land is turned over to the right individuals, a nurturing environment will be produced which will benefit all humanity.”

Soil health is one of the highlights of this year’s conference, which focuses on the decisions Iowa farmers face as they wrestle with challenges from erosion and water quality to profit margins and markets, and spotlights a range of possible solutions to help make farms more resilient. From sessions on cover crops and business planning, to managing livestock and weather, the conference aims to equip attendees with knowledge to confidently chart the future of their farms.

The conference will also feature a second pre-conference short course, “Healthy Soil for Healthy Crops”; 26 other in-depth sessions covering topics in field crops, livestock, horticulture, land stewardship, on-farm energy and more; nine additional Saturday morning breakfast sessions; eight in-depth “U-Pick” sessions on topics chosen this fall by Practical Farmers members; and numerous opportunities to network with fellow farmers, businesses and sponsors.

Practical Farmers of Iowa’s 2015 annual conference is supported by several major sponsors, including: Albert Lea Seed; Calcium Products; eMerge Genetics; Iowa Learning Farms; Iowa State University Department of Agronomy and Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture; Iowa SARE; Sustainable Farm Partners; USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; and WeedGuardPlus.


Founded in 1985, Practical Farmers of Iowa is an open, supportive and diverse organization of farmers and friends of farmers that seeks to strengthen farms and communities through farmer-led investigation and information-sharing. Farmers in our network produce corn, soybeans, beef cattle, hay, fruits and vegetables, and more. For additional information, call (515) 232-5661 or visit


Tamsyn Jones | Practical Farmers of Iowa | (515) 232-5661 |