Renting farmland is one of the most tenuous, insecure parts of farming. Yet for many growers renting is necessary. Winning the opportunity to farm a piece of ground involves a lot of selling. Therefore, we must make the landlord-tenant relationship the best, most lasting relationship it can be. To do this, consider looking at this relationship from the landlord's perspective.
Understanding what the landowner cares about is very important. Most research shows that if you are renting land it will likely be one of two scenarios. Either you rent from an older person who lives within 25 miles of the land or from one of the heirs who could be living in a big city far from the land. Each landlord situation comes with unique considerations.
If you currently have a rental arrangement you must consider how to insulate that agreement. Most farmers are going to assume that you throw money at it. This may be helpful if your landlord is an elderly person strapped for cash except for the ownership of the land – but let's say that's not the case here. At these times you must know what really matters to the landlord.
If you happened to get this land by pure luck or connections, it's a good idea to build a relationship with the owner and understand why they chose you. Make sure the landlord is getting what they expected from the agreement. If there are misunderstandings uncovered, talk about the elephant in the room. Fix the situation. Rebuild the relationship.
The little old lady landlord
If you're dealing with an older widow, be kind. Visit her, and not just when you want something. Stop by and share with her how things are going on the farm. Put it in terms that she'll understand. If she can't get to the field, bring the field to her. Take pictures. Show her how you're taking care of the land and talk about why that's important to her legacy.
As I mentioned last week, if you're having a great year, share the good fortune.
The death of a landlord really throws a loop into things. Plan for it. It's a succession plan for your land. This is a tough challenge, and certainly one to go about delicately. But if you are able to build a good rapport and a real relationship with that landlord, I think you could delicately (and with promised confidentiality, if needed) find out who would be the heir to the land you farm. Then start to build relationships there as well. Likely that heir will be a family member. Loop that person in. Tell them about the challenges and the improvements to the land. Talk about yields. Do this when you don't necessarily have an agenda for a lease renewal.
The city kid landlord
In general, the non-farm population has a poorer understanding of what goes on in farming. This might be the landlord that you're dealing with. So let's take a cue from some of the ag organizations trying build connections with consumers to help them understand farming. Use internet technology and social media tools to stay connected.
There's no reason why your farm couldn't have a web site or a Facebook page that shows how you're taking care of your farm, your success in the growing season, even some of the challenges throughout the year. This could be an easy, inexpensive way to connect to those “city kid” landlords. If you were a city kid landlord, wouldn't you love to be able to hop on Facebook and see what's happening on your farm? As always, it depends on the landlord that you're targeting.
In general we advise our clients, if they have the wherewithal, to own the land that they farm under fair terms and with a healthy return on investment. Owning land is best. But if this is not an option, below is a checklist of considerations for nurturing the relationship with a landlord:
-Keep in touch – care about them.
-Share the wealth in good years.
-Look at the relationship from their perspective.
-Understand why they chose you.
-Delicately ask about heirs and find a way to connect with them as well.