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Finding a place to grow — on leased land in Maryland

Finding a place to grow — on leased land in Maryland


The Piedmont Environmental Council recently released a publication entitled Finding a Place to Grow: How the Next Generation is Gaining Access to Farmland. It consists of a series of stories written by Whitney Pipkin about beginning farmers in Virginia who are farming successfully on leased land.

Maryland farmers are making their own inspiring stories about producing food for the region on leased land. For many reasons, the odds have been stacked against those who lease farmland, yet they seem to persevere. Hands down, the greatest challenge for beginning farmers (those raised on a farm and those who were not) is access to land.

There is nothing new about leased farmland in Maryland or Virginia. In fact, roughly 64% of all Maryland farmland is leased. What is new is that these are not grain farmers. These are vegetable and livestock farmers who have different leasing needs and challenges than grain farmers. They need access to water for their crops and/or livestock. They need fencing to keep their critters in or other critters out. They need housing on the land or nearby to watch over their crops or flocks. They need a viable market nearby.

These farmers are like the farmers of the  first half of the 20th century who sold directly to consumers. By the end of the 20th century, farmers had dropped out of direct sales as major food chains took control of the U.S. food system.  Some farmers scaled up to wholesale operations and others dropped out of farming all together.

Are today’s farmers who sell direct to consumers likely to endure the same fate? Not necessarily.

Primaterra Farm and CSA, a new farm on leased land in Prince George’s County –

What has changed is that consumers want to know their farmers and how they grow their food. The internet is giving farmers the ability to communicate to consumers in a way that levels the marketing field somewhat. And we know more about the soil and how to tease more production from the land with lower input costs, through cover crops, compost, mulch etc.

Leasing land is a practical option for both land owner and farmer. The land owners receive agriculture use assessment for their land, which reduces their tax burden. The farmers avoid the capital costs and/or mortgage burden of buying land and that allows them to invest more into their farm.

Of course the devil is in the details as to whether the owner and the farmer can develop a productive, compatible relationship. On the evening of May 11th, the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Agriculture Law Education Initiative is hosting a farmland leasing webinar.  I will be addressing issues such as finding land to lease and determining if the soils, zoning, and other restrictions will permit a farmer to operate as he/she wishes. Paul Georinger will cover recommended lease documents, average lease rates, and Maryland case law concerning leases. Participants will be able to post questions.

You can also see the first leasing webinar held May 4th, by clicking on Lease Agreements and scrolling down to webinars. The May 11th webinar will be posted at the same location a few days after the event.

Leasing farmland can be a great way for farmers to get started. These webinars provide information to help make that happen.



Lively discussion and stories at the Southern Maryland Leasing Workshop

Lively discussion and stories at the Southern Maryland Leasing Workshop

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Jenny Rhodes, far left of the photo

At the workshop on March 16th, roughly 2/3rds of the 36 attendees were leasing land or have land to lease. Some of those who leased land told humorous anecdotes about failed leasing agreements. The remaining third of attendees were actively seeking land to lease.

I was joined by Jenny Rhodes, Extension agent from Queen Anne’s County, Mae Johnson, Director of the Maryland Agricultural Conflict Resolution Service, and Paul Goeringer, an attorney at University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture & Natural Resources.

Roughly 64% of all Maryland farmland is leased and nearly all of the leases are arranged by a handshake. That method may be the simplest but it is fraught with potential misunderstandings and disagreements as evidenced by the anecdotes brought up by the attendees.

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Mae Johnson

My role was to highlight the changes in agriculture and the free leasing resources on Maryland FarmLINK for farmers and land owners. Jenny described her own experiences as a farmer and extension agent with leasing and provided suggestions as to how to improve communication between land owners and farmers leasing the land. Mae described Maryland’s Right to Farm legislation and how her Conflict Resolution Service can keep both parties out of court when misunderstandings turn into disagreements.

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Paul Goeringer

Paul Goeringer highlighted Maryland’s leasing laws and pressed the point that both parties benefit from a good written lease (a recommendation from all four presenters). Then he presented the key elements of a lease.

We started the meeting with a good meal, had an engaged and appreciative audience and finished on time. We even witnessed discussions between owners and farmers seeking land. Next, our road tour turns to Lower Eastern Shore on April 6th in Princess Anne!

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