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New land lease? How to incorporate conservation practices

Anna Cates, State soil health specialist

Farming rented ground is a reality for most Minnesota producers. When there’s interest in implementing conservation practices on rented ground, renters and owners will need to come to an agreement. As land leases are finalized for next year, it’s a good time to think about incorporating land stewardship practices into those agreements.

Sometimes the renter drives the change to reduce costs by reducing tillage or sometimes the owner may want to see more residue or winter cover crops to reduce soil erosion. Either way, it may take several conversations, over more than one season, to come to an agreement that makes both parties happy.

Consider a longer-term lease

Since conservation practices promote long-term benefits and require multiple seasons to implement, it may also be a good time to consider a longer-term, written lease rather than an informal one-year agreement. In order for a renter to qualify for multi-year conservation programs with the NRCS or SWCD, they’ll need to show they have a lease for that length of time and consent from the landlord.

Match lease language to your goals

Lease language should support your specific conservation goals, so there are no hard and fast rules on how to write it. The Land Stewardship Project offers model legal language for specific tillage, rotation, residue, fertility, and erosion practices that could be included. Aglease 101 is also a good resource for sample lease agreements and arrangements. Here are a few examples of ways to structure leases for conservation:
  • Specify exactly what crops will be planted each year of a multi-year rotation. 
  • Practices could be tied to cost-sharing with the landowner or reduced rent if significant investment is required from the operator. 
  • Working with local SWCDs on cost-sharing for conservation practices like cover crops can help alleviate the financial burden on both the operator or the landowner. 
  • Payments back to the renter could be tied to soil test improvements. 
This may be a difficult conversation. Go in with questions, not demands. Maybe the goal for the first meeting is as simple as learning what your renter/landowner’s perspective is on cover crops or vertical tillage. The long-term goal may be a change in farming practices, but that will be more successful if it’s built on a trusting relationship.

For more information

For more information, see the resources in this Conservation Leases Toolkit developed by Minnesota’s Land Stewardship Project, or reach out to LSP’s Robin Moore at 320-269-2105. Iowa State University Extension also has sample lease language to consider.

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