The proof is in the pudding! Janna Howley, Ag Marketing Specialist, University of Maryland Extension, Prince George’s County, began last Thursday’s farmland leasing workshop (one of three in the last month) with two concrete examples of the growth of the local food movement in Prince George’s County. For snacks, she provided summer sausage from Cabin Creek Heritage Farm and cheese from P.A. Bowen Farmstead. Both farms are recent additions to the Prince George’s ag economy and are doing well. She noted that Prince George’s County is well-positioned for supplying the local food movement and hears many requests for assistance in finding farmland.
Steve Darcey, Engineer with the P.G. County Soil Conservation District relayed a common theme that night. He said that in the 1970s and 1980s, many county farms were too small to survive when commodity farmers nationwide had to scale up to compete. Many children of farmers abandoned their dream to farm, and housing projects began to spring up all over the county. However, he was excited to see new interest in farming and relayed the story of how Kristin Carbone had asked if she could grow a few acres of vegetables on his farm a few years back. He was thrilled how Radix Farm has grown and succeeded in the community.
Despite all the opportunities, Yates Clagett, Ag Land Preservation Administrator, noted that there are challenges for farmers to buy or lease farmland. He said that farmers are loath to try to lease land already being leased by another farmer, and most farmland is already being leased. To purchase land, farmers have to put down 20% to be eligible for a loan. Beginning farmers, and even long-time farmers, have trouble coming up with that much cash. However, he noted that there were dozens of small farms around that were well suited for tobacco farming and may also be well suited for small-scale farming.
A number of leasing and land purchase resources were discussed including those available on Maryland FarmLINK, such as “Property Exchange” and the Soils Tutorial, as well as the land preservation guide and zoning guide found on the “Equipment and Resources” page. Paul Goeringer, from the Center for Agricultural and Natural Resource Policy, presented the new publication Agricultural Leasing in Maryland. Laura Huber is a Loan Officer for Colonial Farm Credit, which sponsored the event. She discussed her company’s mission as a financial cooperative to help the farm community and its member-borrowers. She noted that she and Branch Manager Jessica Cruise grew up on farms. They understand farmers’ needs.
Several farm owners attended the meeting and indicated their willingness to lease land. After the meeting, contact information was shared with farmers seeking land and Janna provided a resource guide for those seeking to lease land in Prince George’s County.
Leasing land on the Eastern Shore. The leasing workshops on the Eastern Shore in Elton and Wye Mills were presented before a different mix of attendees. Most were owners of farms leasing land to commodity farmers. They wanted to know more about options for preparing written leasing and lease prices in today’s markets. However, there were also farmers seeking more land. Paul Goeringer was a featured speaker at these workshops as well.
The relationship between farmer and landowner can be a key to a farmer’s success at leasing land. Jenny Rhodes, Agriculture & Natural Resources Extension Educator at the Queen Anne’s County Extension Office, provided great advice for leasers on how to prepare resumes, status reports and even how to communicate verbally, in writing or online with owners in a fashion that will bring success.
Mae Johnson, Administrator of the Agricultural Conflict Resolution Service at the Maryland Department of Agriculture, observed that it is best to resolve issues during the preparation of lease documents. Otherwise, her services may be required, even if family members are involved. She also described cases where conflicts occur between farmers and non-farmers and how adopted Right-to-Farm regulations can give farmers some protection from litigation.
All good advice for improving chances of success for farmers.
One beginning farmer in Elkton was the exception to the rule. Rather than commodity farming, he said that his farm was a 4-H project gone wild. His children began growing farm animals with 4-H and were surprised to find ready markets for the animals. They have had such success at growing meat for restaurants and other customers that they were seeking land on which to expand — a nice problem, and a more common experience that beginning farmers are finding throughout the state!