Last spring, the American Farmland Trust released a national report on a survey of non-operating landowners. Results showed that an average of 40% of all farmland in the U.S. is rented, and in some counties, it is as high as 80%. These survey results provide some of the most comprehensive information we have on landowners who are not farming their own land.
The report challenged some commonly held ideas about non-operating landowners. These misconceptions included the idea that they only care about the financial bottom line and don’t really care about their land, which couldn’t be further from the truth. As a landowner, are you communicating your strong desire for the stewardship of your land? How do you start doing this if you haven’t done it before?
This is a difficult topic to discuss with your operator. Many people think that questioning what another person is doing implies they are doing it wrong. In conversations I’ve had with women landowners, it’s obvious many are intimidated to have these conversations with their farmer because they don’t want to “rock the boat” or give the impression that they don’t trust what their operator is doing.
The lack of conversation between the landowner and the farmer can keep the owner from implementing the changes they desire and having the desired impact on their land. Now is the time to open the lines of communication with your operator. Farmers have finished their harvest and are gearing up for the next season.
Your farmer might be interested in a conservation but doesn’t know how to communicate with you about this topic, either. Plus, investing in conservation can be risky on land farmers don’t own because they don’t want to chance damaging their relationship with the landowner.
Seek common ground
Conservation leases are a great way to clearly define what both parties agree to in the stewardship of the land. These leases can take a lot of discussion. You can put the decision from that discussion clearly in a document that you both agree to.
As the landowner, you have the right to request changes to how your land is farmed. Keep in mind that the conservation goals you and the farmer agree upon may require some compromise from you. That includes considering changes to the rental rate of the land while the farmer is investing in the conservation practices or considering sharing in this investment cost.
Also, make it a priority to learn about the success and potential failures that could occur as conservation practices are implemented. The risk and cost of failure is one reason why farmers don’t advocate more often for conservation on rented land. Let your farmer know you support them as they work to implement the conservation goals you’ve agreed upon.
Remember, your land is your legacy to future generations. The more you invest in its long-term viability and build a relationship with your farmer to have the same goals, the more success you will have. Local conservation offices like the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Soil and Water Conservation District have information about conservation practices and programs. Read more about AFT’s survey online.
McClain is a state soil health specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. She writes on behalf of the Indiana Conservation Partnership.