As noted throughout the website, this information is not intended as legal advice and is not a substitute for consultation with competenent professionals. These disclaimers highlight the importance of seeking assistance to ensure a fair, legal, and sustainable lease agreement. There are a variety of professionals ready to assist landowners. The list below discusses some of the most common sources of information on leasing farmland and ensuring its sustainability. The last section specifically addresses assistance for women landowners.
The value of sound legal advice is critical to ensure the priorities of the landowner and the sustainability of the farm are protected. While legal advice is often sought in order to enforce the rights of a party after a dispute has arisen, it can be beneficial in terms of finances, good will, and even the well-being of the land to seek legal advice prior to entering an agreement.
A farm lease is a legally binding contract that creates important rights and obligations for both parties. However, landowners often enter oral lease agreements or simply fill in the blanks of form leases without an adequate understanding of the terms and conditions. Attorneys can assist in explaining the rights and duties that arise from such contracts and negotiating the terms of the lease agreement to ensure the landowner’s priorities and the sustainability of the farm are protected.
The legal ramifications of a farm lease can also extend beyond the duties and responsibilities of the lease contract itself. There are issues involving taxes, social security, estate planning, and the availability of and distribution of benefits from government farm programs to name a few. An attorney can assist in explaining and planning for these additional consequences.
The Department of Agriculture has numerous programs designed to provide assistance to both farm operators and landowners. Many of the programs are designed specifically to improve conservation on the farm and prevent environmental degredation stemming from agricultural activities. These programs include financial incentives, cost sharing, and providing expertise to farmers and landowners. There are also programs addressing farm tenure issues, particularly relating to increasing access to beginning or disadvantaged farmers.
Specific programs are addressed in more detail in relevant sections of this site. For example, more information on the USDA’s Transition Incentives Program (TIP), which provides financial incentives to landowners who enter long-term leases with beginning or disadvantaged farmers, is found in the section on “Assisting a New Farmer” in the final chapter.
The staff in the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) can explain the available programs and help develop conservation plans that can be incorporated into a farm lease. Click on this link to find your USDA Service Center.
America’s Land Grant Colleges and Universities have Extension Offices focused on researching and providing information to the agricultural sector. There are over 2900 extension offices nationwide that provide practical information and education on a variety of agricultural topics, including farm management skills, farmland leases, improving productivity, and protecting natural resources. The Iowa State University Extension’s Ag Decision Maker tool provides a wide range of information related to agricultural leases. Find your Cooperative Extension Office here or visit the national eXtension web site for more information from Land-Grant University System experts.
Farm Management Services
Many landowners choose to use the services of a private farm management business. Farm managers provide a variety of services including negotiating and implementing lease agreements, establishing soil conservation and nutrient management plans, coordinating the use of government programs, and maintaining financial and other farm records. These services are provided for a fee, often a percentage of the rent. Landowners should speak extensively with potential farm managers to ensure any lease arrangements reflect their priorities.
Other professionals that can provide assistance include CPAs and insurance agents. These professionals can offer advice and services regarding specific aspects of your farm lease.
There are numerous non-profit organizations providing information and assistance in a variety of areas. These organizations provide services ranging from information on sustainable farm practices to networking for landowners and beginning farmers. Links to relevant non-profit organizations are found in the Links category of the website and are embedded in relevant sections throughout this guide.
The knowledge and experience of other landowners can provide a useful resource. Other landowners can share their expertise regarding the farm sector in general, sustainable practices, relationships with tenants, and more. They can also provide a useful network to find competent tenants who share your values and priorities. Practical Farmers of Iowa is an organization of farmers dedicated to researching and sharing information on profitable, ecologically sound, and community-enhancing approaches to agriculture.
Landowners often depend on their tenants for information on matters including typical rental rates, customary farm practices, and appropriate conservation measures. This dependence can be due to a landowner’s close relationship with the tenant, lack of knowledge or experience in agriculture, or perhaps even a sense of alienation from the farm operation.
In many landlord-tenant relationships reliance on a tenant for information regarding lease arrangements might produce a fair agreement for both parties and may even include consideration for the sustainability of the land. However, it is important for a landowner to recognize the different and often opposing motivations and objectives of the two parties.
Assistance for Women and Minority Landowners
Seeking assistance outside of the tenancy relationship or even the local agricultural community can be particularly important for women landowners. Women landowners have often expressed a sense of alienation from the agricultural community. This limits their access to vital information and networking with other landowners and farm operators. Such limitations can result in less than fair lease arrangements and a lack of input on how the farm is operated. This affects the sustainability of agricultural lands in particular as women landowners have indicated a higher regard for stewardship than many of their male counterparts. There are organizations specifically focused on providing information and networking to women landowners and representing their interests in the larger agricultural community. A few such organizations include:
Women, Food, and Agriculture Network
Women, Land and Legacy (WLL) in Iowa