Three Provisions to Include in Your Next Ag Lease for Healthy Land

“I don’t know about the guy renting my fields. That deep gully should be a grassy waterway. Look at the erosion into the woods. I keep telling myself next year will be different, but it’s not.”   — Sauk County landowner who wanted to remain anonymous

Among woodland owners, leasing out agricultural land is very common. In exchange, landowners receive income and low tax rates (including on adjacent woodlands when “agricultural forest” applies). These financial reasons alone provide powerful justification for the practice.

However, a lease agreement can be disconnected from your interests and values – hunting, beauty, wildlife, water quality, among others. Or worse, practices are directly opposed. “To be honest, I don’t like looking at this field,” said the Sauk County landowner.

It’s possible for written agricultural leases to chart a course for your values. Here are three provisions to include in your next agricultural lease agreement.

Acceptable and unacceptable farming practices. These may include methods of tillage and weed control, operable distance from waterways (e.g., inclusion of buffer strips), timing of manure spreading/fertilizing, protecting natural/sensitive areas from heavy equipment, and chemicals that may or may not be used.

All of these practices influence water availability and quality on your property, and the health of your land. Consult your local agricultural agent through the Natural Resources Conservation Service to identify best management practices for water quality.

Party responsible for maintaining eligibility and participation in federal farm programs. Governmental programs provide financial incentive and technical expertise for carrying out conservation farming practices.

Actions that will result in a default of the contract. Big mistakes can be costly and set you back years, or even decades. You want (and your land deserves) an operator who cares for your land.