Farm Leasing Insights and Joy (!)

Farm Leasing 101 Image

At the start of our recent Farm Leasing 101 webinar, Rachel Armstrong of Farm Commons stated that joy (yes, joy!) is fully within reach in your farm lease relationships.  

If you’ve had a painful lease experience, you might think Rachel is off her rocker. What kind of joy could a legal document possibly provide? But in the webinar, Rachel explained how to create a resilient lease, meaning a lease that is mutually beneficial and has measures in place for addressing new issues and challenges that may come up.  

“Resilience,” Rachel said, “comes when you focus on relationships, communications, and strategies that will help you reduce risk.” A lease coming out of that kind of process provides peace of mind and shared purpose for both the farmer and the farmland owner for a long-term endeavor. And that’s a recipe for something at least very close to joy.  

We would encourage you to take advantage of the recorded webinar and the supplemental resources (see below). Here are three leasing tips that especially stood out.  

  1. Customize the lease to your unique situation: It’s OK to start with a standard lease template but don’t stop there. Talk through all of the topics and particularities related to the specific property and arrangement both parties will face and write into the lease how those matters will be addressed. A great resource to guide you in that process is this list of questions developed by Farm Commons.    
  2. Have your own plan for the situation, not the state’s: It would seem logical that state leasing law would take precedence over your lease in court. But Rachel noted that this is not true. Your farmland lease, whether written or verbal, is legally binding and enforced before state law. In Rachel’s words, “The State has a plan for us when we don’t have one for ourselves.” So, control your own destiny by developing your own lease with the terms and procedures that you and your lease partner want.  
  3. Good leases take investment before AND after they are signed: Crafting and maintaining a resilient lease is worth the upfront effort. But the world changes, so Rachel also recommends regular (e.g., quarterly) conversations between farmers and landowners to address concerns and issues that may be coming up and just to maintain a healthy relationship. 

Rachel also addressed the topic of how to fairly incorporate conservation practices, such as cover crops, into lease agreements. Some of the 30+ families and organizations in the webinar shared encouraging stories of what they are already doing and what they plan to do along these lines. A farmer shared, “We continue to reward our landlord with organic annual premiums on top of fixed cash rent.” A landowner said they will be “providing appropriate incentives to the producer” for improving the health of their land.

Because of the importance of leasing to Illinois farmers and farmland owners, we would like to see our webinar and the excellent supplementary material (including an outline of Illinois farm leasing law) shared with as many farmers and landowners as possible. If interested, please email Jim at jim@libertyprairie.org and he can send you links to the content via email. We hope you’d consider making a donation to support our ongoing education efforts around land access and regenerative farming.