Agriculture has experienced a dramatic shift toward specialization with livestock operations and crop production taking place on different farms.  While this has allowed farmers to focus on maximizing production of a few specific crops, it potentially decreases the sustainability of the farm operation, reduces the economic diversity of the farm and community, and results in an increased need for external inputs.

Encouraging your tenant to integrate livestock into a crop production operation can benefit the long-term productive capacity of the land, but it does create additional matters to consider in your farm lease agreement.  This is particularly true regarding Management Intensive Grazing (MiG).  However, you’ll probably find that the benefits of such an approach, including greater biodiversity and nutrient management, outweigh the time expense of additional planning and initial negotiations.

Additional Resources:

Greg Judy, Leasing Land for Custom Grazing Stockers

  • Greg Judy specializes in leasing land for management intensive grazing and provides a few tips on leasing in this article.
  • He has published books that provide greater detail, which are available at the Green Pastures Farm website.

Minnesota Department of Agriculture: Controlled Grazing

  • Provides a side-by-side comparison of controlled grazing techniques with continuous grazing and feedlot operations.

The following is a video from “Cooking Up a Story” on the benefits of rotational grazing for a dairy operation.

Many of the key considerations for encouraging the adoption of sustainable practices in general also apply specifically to livestock integration.  Here, we will take a more particular look at some of these considerations in light of incorporating livestock into a farm operation.

Tenure Security

Livestock can be used as a tool to improve the sustainability of the land.  However, tenure security is particularly important if considering a MiG operation.  The benefits of such a system may not be fully appreciated for the first two or three years, and your tenant will likely have to make substantial investments to improve grasses, provide fencing, and ensure water is available to each grazing area. This may require a lease term of ten years or more.

Improvements

Due to the substantial improvements that may be necessary, provisions regarding reimbursement for such improvements becomes extremely important.  While granting a long-term tenure helps protect your tenant’s investment in improving the land it is also important to address reimbursement if, for some reason, the tenancy is terminated early or the improvements have not fully depreciated at the expiration of the lease term.

The lease should also be specific about which improvements are considered permanent and will become the property of the landowner at the end of the lease, and which the tenant will be able to remove.  In a MiG operation, fencing, in particular, has a more mobile nature and use than conventional operations.

Cost-sharing

There may be additional expenses for a farm operation that has not previously involved livestock.  The specifics will depend on the type of livestock operation, but sharing initial costs can go a long way in encouraging your tenant to consider livestock integration.

Monetary Costs:

  • Fencing
  • Infrastructure for cutting and curing silage
  • Providing water access
  • Winter feed
  • Veterinary Expenses

Time Costs:

  • Management of rotational grazing
  • Management of artificial insemination and choosing a male
  • Marketing

Other Lease Issues Regarding Livestock Incorporation

Other issues to address in the lease:

  • Liability
  • Insurance
  • Limiting livestock access to natural resources such as streams, ponds, and wood lots. (It should be noted that under proper management livestock can be used to help rejuvenate neglected wood lots.)