Another broken link to the farm

Last month I took a tour of my wife’s grandparent’s new home in the western Minnesota town of Chokio, population around 400. I carried my 1-year-old daughter across the concrete floors and through the dry-walled rooms. The house is on the edge of town, near their church, behind the grain co-op. Their excitement was reserved.  Rightfully so: They recently sold their farmland — though it was for more money than they ever thought they’d get for it.

By Clay Masters.

My wife’s great grandfather, a Swedish immigrant, moved to this part of Minnesota in the 1950s. None of the family’s seven kids wanted to take over the land.

But it’s a good time to cash out. Reports this month from the Federal Reserve banks of Kansas City and St. Louis show farmland in the Midwest shot up 25 percent over the past year. That’s the biggest one-year jump in the last three decades. But with business booming in farm country, property taxes are going up. As Beaver Crossing, Neb., farmer Mark Haser pointed out to me this fall, farmers can’t afford to own everything themselves anymore. (Click here to read the story.) So wanna-be farmers can’t break in and midsize operations have difficulties expanding.

But some farmers are fine with that. Here at Harvest Public Media, we’re in the beginning stages of a big project that will explore how demographic, technological and political forces will shape the American farmer into the next decade and beyond. We’re reaching out to you for your insight from the Harvest Network -- click here to learn more.)  I’m working on producing the next Harvest television documentary that plays into this look at the future farmer by exploring how the growing Hispanic/Latino population will continue to integrate into the ag industry. 

One farmer I’ve talked with for the documentary is Augustin Soto, who farms near the western Nebraska town of Morrill. He’s happy with the 150 acres of land he owns and doesn’t see himself getting any bigger. His son, who’s in his 40s and has his own small business, helps some on the farm, but for the most part Soto does it himself.

But the question remains: Will the farm be big enough when his son takes over to sustain a comfortable profit on its own? Or will he need multiple off-farm jobs to support his family? Will a larger farm eventually buy him out?

There’s a saying in the Midwest that you can trace anyone’s roots back to farming. As I was carrying my daughter through her great-grandparents’ new house in town in Chokio, Minn, I was wondering if she would be able to truly appreciate this heritage.

Clay Masters reports for Harvest Public Media, an agriculture-reporting project involving six NPR member stations in the Midwest. For more stories about farm and food, check out