Practical Farmers of Iowa will premiere a play tackling the critical issue of farmland ownership transfer. The play will be presented on stage Saturday, July 12, at Scattergood Friends School at West Branch, Iowa. The play, titled "Map of My Kingdom," was commissioned by PFI and written by Mary Swander, Iowa's poet laureate.
In the play, character Angela Martin, a lawyer and mediator in land transition disputes, shares stories of how farmers and landowners have approached their land transitions. Some families struggled to resolve the sale or transfer of their land, dissolving relationships. Others found peacefully rational solutions focusing on keeping the land and the family together.
Tremendous transition in ownership of Iowa farmland
A tremendous transition in the ownership of farmland in Iowa soon will take place due to the aging population of Iowa farmers and farmland owners. That's what this play is about. Many farmers will lose farmland (their source of livelihood) during this transition unless farmland owners act now.
"Land is the thread that binds all the stories together," says Teresa Opheim, executive director of Practical Farmers. "'Map of My Kingdom' will resonate with people who have been or are working through challenging land transfer issues. We also hope it helps others start those critical conversations."
According to Dan Wilson, president of PFI and a member of the group's Farm Transfer Committee, "the play is a good way at getting at a tremendous farmland transition that is about to take place in Iowa, as elderly landlords begin to pass on. Many farmers will lose farmland (their source of livelihood) during this transition, unless we tackle these issues."
Farmers who rent land are in a precarious position
Fifty-six percent of Iowa farmland is owned by people over the age of 65, according to a report by retired Iowa State University Extension economist Mike Duffy, "Farmland Ownership and Tenure Report in Iowa 2012." Thirty percent of Iowa farmland is owned by those more than 75 years old.
Owner-operated Iowa farmland has decreased from 55% in 1982 to 40% in 2012, says Duffy. Farmers who rent land are in a precarious position: When their landlords pass on, much of that land will pass to the landlords' heirs collectively or in separate parcels. Some of those heirs will want to cash out quickly, leaving the farmer struggling or unable to find the financing to purchase the land.
The situation is equally severe for farming offspring of farmers who own the farmland. Many farmers plan to leave their land equally among offspring. But many farming offspring will not be able to buy out the other heirs who want to sell the farmland to "cash" in on their inheritance.
Hopefully, "Map of My Kingdom" will help get talk started
"For most farmers I know, owning land means everything," notes play character Angela Martin, the lawyer and mediator in land transition disputes. "Owning land means triumph over generation after generation of poverty, struggle, servitude, even slavery." Martin says many farmers "don't talk much about money or anything else. And land transition takes talk -- a lot of talk."
Opheim adds, "We at Practical Farmers hope "Map of My Kingdom" helps get some of that talk started."
Premier is July 12, please RSVP by July 9
"Map of My Kingdom" will be directed by Matt Foss, professor of acting and theatre history at Iowa State University, and performed by Cora Brumlow, a professional actor based in Chicago. Cora played the lead female role in Mary Swander and Dennis Chamberlin's play, "Vang", about recent immigrant farmers.
The premiere of "Map of My Kingdom" will be performed at Scattergood Friends School, a small Quaker boarding school, on Saturday, July 12 in West Branch. A light supper will be provided at 6 p.m. and the play will begin at 7 p.m. A discussion will follow the performance. Please RSVP to Lauren Zastrow by Wednesday, July 9 at [email protected] or at 515-232-5661. Admission is $10 per person.
"Map of My Kingdom" is sponsored by: The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, New Bo Books in Cedar Rapids, Lucas County Arts Council, Principal Financial Group and Sustainable Farm Partners, LLP.
Founded in 1985, Practical Farmers of Iowa is an open, supportive and diverse organization of farmers and friends of farmers, advancing profitable, ecologically sound and community-enhancing approaches to agriculture through farmer-to-farmer networking, farmer-led investigation and information sharing. Farmers in PFI's network produce corn, soybeans, beef cattle, hay, fruits and vegetables, and more. For additional information call 515-232-5661 or visit the PFI website.
Some lines from the stage play:
"My grandparents worked like dogs to hold onto [the farm] during the Depression…. Then my parents both took off-farm jobs and went into contract farming during the Farm Crisis…. How do I best plan for my kids' inheritance? I have my whole family—from generations back– looking over my shoulder."
"I do want all my children to have a decent inheritance, to get ahead in the world. And I do want the farm to remain intact. I don't want them to start fighting each other as soon as I'm in my grave. How do we start talking to each other about this? I don't want their inheritance to mean lawyers and courts and ill will…."