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.
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.