Who Are Today's Farm Ground Owners?

Trends in land ownership over the next 20 years will impact your operation.

What's going on right now with ownership of farm ground? There are certain trends in land ownership that are affecting you today - and there's more to come over the next 20 years. How will these trends impact your farming operation?

Currently, 42% of farmland in the U.S. is rented or leased. But the more interesting statistic is the fact that in the next 20 years, 60% of U.S. farmland, or about 108 million acres, is going to change hands. Now, you might be thinking: How am I going to get my hands on some of that land? Or: I have my hands on some of that land today - but will I always?

Another thing to consider is the fact that each of your landlords is different - and probably needs different things from you to maintain the best possible relationship. We know that 65% of landlords are over 60 years old. What does that landlord need from you in the relationship? I know of one young farmer who farms 2000 acres and has never lost a piece of ground. His philosophy is to treat farm landlords like family. Because they're close by, he plows their snow, has helped build a wheel chair ramp and install a window air conditioner. He says keeping an eye on elderly landlords has won him the favor of their children as well.

A landlord you might already have is one who lives within 25 miles of the rented acreage. That accounts for about half of the landlords out there. They might be able to visit their farm ground more often - to drive out and see if the ditches are clean and check on what you've been doing. That's an advantage if you keep things neat.

That leaves the other half, who lives further than 25 miles from the ground. Generally, with these landlords, it's a lot further than that - more like 500 or 1000 miles away. That distance can definitely affect your relationship with them - and affects how you can communicate.

Here's a starting point to reduce some of the uncertainty around rental ground. Have expectations been set? Do you know what your landlords expect of you? Do you have expectations of them that you need to tell them about?

Think about each of your landlords. Why did they choose you? How are you setting yourself apart from others farmers in your area in a positive way?

In any relationship, communication is the first building block. Lay a foundation for good communication with each of your farm landlords. Reach out to each of them on a regular basis. Find out how often they'd like to be communicated with - and the medium they prefer. Phone calls, websites, newsletters and personal visits are places to start.

Next week, I'll continue with a few more ideas on how to foster good communication and relationships with your landlords.

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