Land access is an obstacle oft-cited by young farmers seeking to get their business off the ground. As a group, young people looking to farm tend to be rich in energy, ideas, and ideals, but often rather short on capital. Resourceful as we are, the rise in land prices makes it unrealistic for many of us to purchase good farmland near markets at a price we can afford. The idea of farming on rented land may be hard for some to swallow: There is a very real worry about a lack of security, an uneasiness toward putting down roots, and a tendency to invest only in things that can fit in the back of a pickup. Nevertheless, some young farmers are exploring this option and finding creative ways to make leasing land work for them. And more and more organizations are popping up across the country to help facilitate relationships between farmers and landowners.
The Columbia Land Conservancy (CLC), a Hudson Valley nonprofit dedicated to conserving farmland and other open spaces, recently started its own Farmer Landowner Match Program. Over the last two years they have orchestrated 18 successful farmer-landowner matches. Marissa Codey, the CLC’s Conservation and Agricultural Programs Manager, maintains a free and publicly-accessible database of Columbia County farmers and landowners seeking partnership. Codey says that it quickly became clear that, while the database is a useful starting point, the CLC needed to work with both parties at a deeper level to foster successful, long-lasting matches. One main emphasis of the match program has become the development of “expectations and communication,” with the goal of establishing trust between farmer and landowner. From the outset, it is important that they both have a realistic understanding of the land’s capabilities based on topography, water, soil type, land use history, infrastructure, and the vision of all involved. To that end, when landowners enter the program they have access to volunteers who visit and assess potential uses of their property.
Once a match is made, the CLC also assists in crafting a lease. Codey emphasizes that a lease, in addition to its other important functions, serves as a starting point of dialogue between the parties. It can lead to important conversations about forms of payment (whether it be a fixed rent, a percentage of income, a food-barter, the joy in seeing the land put to good use, or some other creative arrangement), lease duration and renewal, and expenses (for example, who is responsible for the costs of maintaining or improving infrastructure). This kind of communication helps to cultivate a shared vision for the future of the property.
The CLC has a helpful list of resources on its website for people both in Columbia County and beyond who might be interested in leasing farmland: http://clctrust.org/working-farms/resources/
The Greenhorns also have a great–and free, and downloadable–pamphlet on land tenure called “Land. Liberty. Sunshine. Stamina.” available on their website: http://www.thegreenhorns.net/reading.html
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- Do you have any experience, positive or negative, with matching programs of this nature? With leasing farmland in general?
- Are you considering leasing land in the future? What are your main hopes and concerns in a land tenure situation?