Earlier this week I posted a blog about Bird Dog, a new service that helps farmers and landowners ‘find’ each other. Farmers looking for more land to rent develop a profile of beliefs, production history and farm practices. Landowners looking for new tenants create a similar profile. The high-tech service helps match farmers with like-minded land owners. And the matches don’t all just revolve around the highest bid.
Farmers interested in expansion are eager to avoid looking too pushy in their community. This service keeps everything anonymous until you meet to negotiate a land lease.
And with thousands of acres set to change hands over the next 10 years, a service like Bird Dog could be a real game changer in farmland leasing.
I asked a few Bird Dog farmer customers to share why they use the service, with the promise of anonymity. It appears that farmers who use the service are banking on education and information as a chip in their strategy to get more farmland.
“My goal for using this service is to reach landlords with whom I have no current relationship,” said one farmer client. “Bird Dog serves several purposes, landowner education, landlord-tenant communication and the means of joining operators with landowners who have similar goals. The challenge is, at what expense are you willing to grow your business? Obviously if there is a match and the landowner is willing to make a change, that change is coming at the expense of the current operator. I ask myself, how would I feel if someone used this service on one of my rented farms? My answer to that is, if I lose a farm is it because I was not listening to the landowner and meeting their need?
“Happy landowners have no reason to change tenants. The educational information that is sent to landowners will result in a more engaged owner who will be better equipped to talk with their current operator about their farming practices. The current tenant will have the final say as to whether they are willing to bend to the requests of the more educated landlord.
“I hope to benefit from the landlord who has a tenant not willing to adapt or meet the owner’s requests and is ready to make a change. The real winner will be the landowner. They will have a better more vested tenant (new or old) with the goal of improving (not degrading) soil quality.
“We want to work with landowners who are thinking about long term sustainability and not just short term gain,” he continues. “Some owners simply want the most cash rent that they can get and will shop tenants every year; this tactic leads to abuse by the tenant most of the time. Why would a tenant care about fertility, soil quality, fixing or installing tile, waterways, or clearing trees if they are breaking even or losing money and may lose the farm next year? If the communication between owner and tenant is good, then the tenant's security will allow them to invest in a property that they do not own.
“I do not expect to gain thousands of acres by using this service but any acres that are added via Bird Dog should be great matches!”
Here’s my two cents: While Bird Dog is anonymous, it does bring more transparency to the cash rent process. Both parties – tenants and owners – reveal what they want through their profile, whether that’s highest bid, best conservation practices or something else altogether. Now they can find each other in a much more efficient way.
Whether you use it or not, this service should get you thinking about your relationship with your landowners. Are you giving them what they want and need, besides a check?
Are you sure?