Doing the Most with the Leased

How does conservation work in leased farmland? That’s a central question here in Iowa, where between 51% and 53% of farmland is leased. And it’s the question Ann Johanns, an extension program specialist at Iowa State University, explores in this week’s webinar, “Farmland Leasing Considerations in Conservation Systems Adoption.”

Johanns begins by reviewing some of the nuances of Iowa farm leasing, including the four different kinds of lease arrangements and the many factors that affect rent and the wider rental market. In navigating this constantly shifting field, Johanns emphasizes that communication between landlords and tenants is key. In-person conversations, including informal stopping-by-for-a-cup-of-coffee meetups, are of prime value; when in-person isn’t a viable option, any kind of long-distance communication, including various kinds of social media, can help as well. Discussions can be thorny and difficult, but they’re also vital.

Slide from the webinar, showing Iowa’s leased landscape

From day one, an open conversation can work wonders for pinpointing each party’s goals, talking through potential practices, and laying out advance planning—including what to do if a practice doesn’t work out. Similarly, the more that can be put down in writing, usually the better. As Johanns says, “What you remember and what I remember might be two different things.”

There are many free resources available to help these discussions along the way, including the Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices Manual, ILF’s own Talking with Your Tenant and Talking with Your Landlord publications, and the leasing resources Johanns coordinates for Ag Decision Maker. Specific lease insertions often help clarify agreements, such as the Nature Consortium’s sample lease insertion for cover crops. Also recommended are two previous ILF webinars, “Incorporating Conservation Practices Into Your Farm Lease”  and “Economic Considerations on Cover Crop Adoption.”

Johanns discussed several related points in the lively Q&A following the webinar, including the nuanced issue of leasing within the family. As she says, it’s helpful to keep business and personal matters as separate as possible, wearing different hats for the different conversations. The discussions that help the land thrive are often ones that need to be kept off the table at Thanksgiving.

You can watch Johanns’s webinar here, and catch up with all the previous webinars at the ILF website.

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