Sustainable Farmland Agreements



As the harvest season winds down many farmers begin to think about talking to their non-farming land owners about farming the land next year. Non-farming land owners are also preparing for discussions with a familiar grower or with a new one. According to the Farm and Food Care Ontario website over 35% or 4 million acres of farmland is currently on the rental market. How that land is managed can have a big impact on the environment.

Farmers approaching new landowners or those with an existing relationship need to make sure they are communicating in a way that the person is comfortable with. That could be a visit or a phone call or it may be electronic. You may also have to do some educating depending on the level of knowledge of farming or of more progressive practices. Showing the landowner the good soil management practices you use can go a long way to convincing them that you care about the land and want to work with them to improve the property in question. Some growers have put together a presentation illustrating what they do to maintain or improve their soil health. Working towards a multi-year agreement makes it easier for the farmer to take the steps to improve the land. Doing extra things the person needs done can be a way to help build trust.

A recent article from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in the United States titled “Five Questions Non-Operator Landowners Should Ask Their Farmers about Soil Health” features Barry Fisher an Indiana Farmer and soil health specialist with NRCS. In the article Barry suggests non-operator landowners ask their farming partners these five questions:

  • Do you build organic matter in the soil?
  • Do you test the soil at least once every four years?
  • Do you use no-till practices?
  • Do you plant cover crops?
  • What can we do together to improve soil health on my land?

In the article Fisher states that farmers can build the productive capacity and resiliency of their landowner’s soil but as it is a long term proposition landowners should consider multi-year leases to provide more security for the farmer. He concludes by saying, “Improving soil health can provide long-term, stable dividends for you, your family, and your farming partner.”

The Farm and Food Care Ontario website has a significant number of resources to help with the development of farmland agreements. There is a brochure outlining farmer and landowner experiences, information for farmers and land renters; and for landowners and landlords. There is also a land lease agreement discussion checklist and a sample farm lease agreement. Check them out at and start working towards better long term economic returns while improving the health of our soils.