Owners of farmland today are a varied group. We divide them into two major categories: those who farm their land (owner-operators) and those who do not (non-farming landowners). Non-farming landowners are made up of private, institutional and public landowners. These include farm inheritors, educational institutions, conservation organizations and municipalities, to name a few. 98 percent of farm landlords in the U.S. are not farmers. Of the 20,000 landowners who lease land for farming in New England, 88% are non-farmers.
Farm seekers are new and beginning farmers who want to access land for the first time or scale up their operations, as well as established farmers who want to expand or relocate their farms. Access to farmland is a top obstacle for new and beginning farmers, according to surveys by the National Young Farmers Coalition (2011) and the American Farm Bureau (2013). The traditional pattern of farm succession (i.e., younger male farmers inheriting a farm) no longer holds. The most common method of land acquisition for beginning and established farmers is from a non-relative (USDA, 2013). Immigrant, minority, women and other socially disadvantaged farmer populations face additional challenges in accessing land to farm.
“Farm link” programs have been around since the late 1980s. Originally, they were intended to help retiring farmers find someone to take over the farm. Recently, “linking” programs have proliferated. These days, the land holding side of the linking equation is not limited to retiring farmers with farms. All kinds of landowners are served.
What do farm link programs do? It depends, but all have the basic intention of helping farmers and farmland find each other. One way to describe the differences among farm linking programs is by the services they provide. “Listing” services are simply that — a list of available farm properties for rent or purchase. Sometimes there is a list of farm seekers as well. The New England Farmland Finder website is an example of a regional farm property clearinghouse that allows landowners to post available farm properties. This service is not a real estate listing, although real estate agents (and others representing landowners) are welcome to post farm properties. “Linking” services typically screen seekers and landowners and provide contact information to the parties based on the screening criteria. Think of a traditional or online dating service. “Matching” services go one step further by actively facilitating connections, negotiations and agreements. Some programs also offer educational materials, training and networking events, and more extensive direct advising.
Whether they offer listing, linking or matching services, the bottom line for all farm link programs is to help beginning farmers, other farm seekers, and farmland owners connect with each other and related resources.
More about farm linking in our region
- How To Link To Land in Vermont’s Local Banquet
- Rhode Island Land Linking Program: Background Research and Policy Analysis A report by Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic
- Land Link Programs in the Northeast US: A program assessment and lessons learned
Farm linking programs – New England
- New England Farmland Finder
- Connecticut FarmLink
- Maine FarmLink
- New Entry Sustainable Farming Project Farmland Matching Service (Eastern MA)
- Vermont FarmLink
Farm linking programs – beyond New England
Once you’ve determined what you have to offer in terms of farmland – and what you are looking for – you can develop an outreach plan that might include advertising, posting on a farm property website, and email messaging. Consider professional support such as from Land For Good to help you develop your farmer recruitment and selection plan. Read more about how we work with Landowners.
There is no simple method or standard for determining farmland leasing rates. Cash rental rates for farmland depend on the local market, the quality of the rented parcel, and the landowner.
County-level statistics can be useful in getting a general read on what renters are paying for farmland. The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) compiles county-level statistics for per-acre cash rental rates for irrigated farmland, non-irrigated farmland, and pasture. NASS has maps of average lease rates by state. One can subscribe to the NASS Cash Rents Report by region (Northeast) and cash rents can be searched using the NASS Quick Stats tool. For the “Cash Rents” data in QuickSTATS, paste this into your browser: https://quickstats.nass.usda.gov/?sector_desc=ECONOMICS&commodity_desc=RENT&agg_level_desc=COUNTY
In general, cropland rental rates are higher than hay and pasture land. New England cropland lease rates can range from $40 per acre/year to $300 per acre/year. If the soil is decent, and there is no infrastructure such as buildings, municipal water, fencing, etc. a reasonable cropland lease rate might be $75 per acre/year.
Landlords and farmers should not, however, base rental rates solely on benchmark data like NASS county-level data. These are only averages that can obscure big differences in land rental rates across a county. Actual farmland rents may diverge significantly from the available benchmarks for a variety of reasons specific to the parcel, area, and owner.
When determining rental rates, an understanding of the going rates in your area is critical. Landlords and farmers have several potential sources of information, including other landlords and producers, ag lenders, Farm Service Agency employees and ag real estate agents. Some state extension services have information on rental rates. The staff at your local Conservation District or USDA Farm Service Agency offices might have a pulse on local cropland leasing rates.
Landlords might consider basing their rental rates on land values. Others base lease rates on the landlord’s carrying costs, which would be different for town-owned farmland than privately owned farmland. Some farmers and landlords negotiate the rent based on a farmer’s business plan, which can show what the business can reasonably carry for land rent. Many farmers and landowners work out a payment that is flexible, such as one based on how well the farmer does financially that growing season, instead of a fixed amount of cash per acre.
Typically, landlords and renters begin thinking about rental rates for the next crop season soon after harvest.
Our Toolbox for Farm Leasing contains guides for landowners and farm tenants, as well as lease templates.
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If you have a story of a successful or unusual example of leasing farmland, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us!