Retain and Improve Rented Land

Gaining access to affordable land is one of the most significant challenges faced by farmers. Leasing land is often the easiest way to start or expand your farm. If you do rent land, below are some resources that can help you develop a trusted relationship with your landowner, start the conversation about new practices, and create a better lease—all of which provide you with land security and profitability while also protecting your landowner’s assets.

Cultivate Your Relationship

While it is important to determine and share your goals with the landowner, it is equally important to understand their perspective and their vision for how they want their land to be used and cared for. Are they a retired farmer who wants to age in place but see the land managed as it had been? Is sustainable agriculture important to them, but they are unfamiliar with agricultural management or conservation practices? Do they want organic practices to be used? Developing a good relationship with your landowner can lead to a better and more secure lease arrangement and lays the groundwork for a stronger partnership in which both parties can achieve their goals. A good way to build a long-term relationship is to consider your landlord a partner and keep them informed about the practices you use on their land and why. Start the conversation early, be open and honest, and consider their point of view.

Start a Conversation about Conservation

As a farmer who rents farmland, it can be complicated to invest in practices that improve the profitability of your operation and the value of the land but that may not yield results for several cropping seasons. To implement longer-term practices such as improved drainage, investments in soil health (e.g. cover cropping or tillage reduction), or terracing and filter strips which control soil erosion, you might need the assistance of your landowner, either in terms of shared costs, lower rental rates, or longer-term lease agreements. Take time to discuss with your landowner why you think certain conservation practices are important and how you both can benefit from improving the land. Help them feel included in the decision-making process, and make sure you are available to talk if they have questions or need more information.  

Learn About Types of Leases

There are two main types of leases: cash rent agreements or share agreements. Cash rent agreements are typically based on fixed rates for the use of land, buildings and other improvements, calculated on a per acre or fraction thereof. Share agreements are where both the landowner and the tenant share income from crop production, as well as expenses related to that production. Cash rent leases tend to be the most common, especially for beginning farmers. The following resources lay out some of the pros and cons of these types of lease arrangements.

Draft a Good Lease

Key elements of a lease include: a property description, the length of the lease term, and payment terms/rental rate. A good lease should also help both the farmer and the landowner achieve their goals. Work with an attorney to help you and your landlord draft a lease that is fair to both parties. A lease can include the use of specific conservation practices or may include conservation provisions which allow for flexibility in how conservation goals are achieved. 

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