The forested sections of a farm have a significant impact on the sustainability as well as the economic potential of a farm operation.  However, full appreciation of the benefits provided by woodlands requires management.  This makes it especially important to address woodlot management in your farm lease document.

The video below provides a brief description of the history of oak savannas in Iowa and the need for active forest management. The content that follows addresses woodlot management in a farm lease situation.

Elizabeth Garth, co-founder of the Whiterock Conservancy near Coon Rapids, explains the history of oak savannas and the need for forestry management in Iowa.

Excluding Woodlots from the Farm Lease

If you plan to manage the woodlot yourself, the simplest way to prevent interference with your methods of management is to exclude the woodlot from the leased property.  If woodlots are to be excluded, this should be clearly indicated in the property description section of the lease document.  A legal description of the leased premises is the most effective way to avoid confusion over which land is included in the lease.

Including Woodlots in the Farm Lease

If woodlots are included in the leased property, the particular provisions regarding management will likely depend on the duration of the farm lease and your own inclinations, as well as those of your tenants, to engage in woodlot management.  Due to the long-term nature of forestry management, short-term leases may require more restrictions to ensure proper care of woodlots.  While your tenant farmer may have the best intentions regarding stewardship of woodland resources, the economic realities of proper woodland management do not lend themselves well to short-term tenure. Much like concerns regarding soil erosion and nutrient depletion, an insecure tenure may force tenant operators to choose short-term gain over long-term forest health and production.  In relation to woodland management, however, even a lease of ten years or more may not provide adequate tenure to appreciate proper management.

Grassland and woods

Woodlots are often ignored, but can contain valuable resources.

Land Use Restrictions

You will, of course, want to restrict the manner of timber harvest or cutting of trees. Many sample leases contain simple provisions regarding timber and trees. A typical form lease provision provides, “The tenant agrees not to cut live trees for sale purposes or personal uses.” While this provides protection for live trees, there is more to woodlot management than preserving live trees. Other matters that should be considered include:

  • Thinning over-stocked woodlots
  • Use and construction of off-road paths
  • Grazing woodlots (Further information on grazing can be found in the section on integrating livestock into a sustainable farm operation.)
  • Wildlife habitat restoration and preservation
  • And, of course, revenue derived from woodlot activities

In the same manner that land use activities regarding crop production and nutrient management can be detailed in a carefully developed plan and incorporated into a lease agreement, so too can the parties enter a woodlot management plan.

Land Use Reservations

As previously stated, if you intend to manage the woodlands on the property yourself, the easiest way to ensure your ability to do so without infringing on the possession of your tenant is to simply exclude woodland acres from the leased property. However, in some instances this may not be practical or, despite the restrictions, your tenant may have an interest in renting the woodlands as well. Therefore, if the wooded acres do remain within the lease, you will also need to make certain reservations regarding your ability to continue with management aspects of the wooded land.  Reservations to consider include:

  • Entering the property for inspection and inventory
  • Entering the property for harvesting (Much like reservations regarding the right to extract mineral resources, such a provision should ensure that harvest activities will not interfere with your tenant’s farm operation.)
  • Planting of seedlings (Some woodlots require plantings to reach their full potential, especially if previously overgrazed.  This makes it important for the lease to clearly indicate what is considered to be part of a woodlot portion of the farmland.)
  • Again, grazing woodlots (Livestock grazing, if done properly, can play an important role in promoting a healthy woodlot.  A reservation of the right to graze livestock on the woodlot is worth consideration if your tenant does not want to participate in this activity.  Matters regarding renting to a third party for grazing are discussed below.)

Renting Woodlots for Livestock Grazing

Whether renting woodlots to your tenant farmer or to a third party solely for the purpose of livestock grazing there are important matters worth specific attention in relation to livestock and woodlands.  Overgrazing by livestock can cause damage to woodlots that will be felt for years and possibly decades into the future.  However, proper rotational grazing can be a useful tool for improving the heath of woodlots.  In addition, renting woodlands to livestock owners can reap additional income.  There are some livestock producers that specialize in rotational grazing and use woodlots as part of their system.  The right to lease woodlots and the distribution of proceeds from such leases should be set forth in your farm lease agreement.

Additional Resources:
Check out the Woodlot Management Resources page to learn more about proper woodland management, timber sales, as well as cost-sharing programs and tax incentives for forest stewardship.