By viewing landowners as partners, the planting season can go more smoothly and you can plan ahead with greater success. All it takes is regular conversation.
“I make sure my landlords are aware of basic needs of the landscape as we try to work forward toward a profit,” says Tim Palmer, who farms mostly rented ground near Truro in south-central Iowa. “One comment my landlord has made is they don’t consider me a tenant, they consider me a partner.”
Whether you make an occasional call to an out-of-state landlord or sit down with landowners who are neighbors, the conversation should cover topics that affect both parties. Get to know your landlord to understand the parts of the business they care about and the parts they don’t.
In the spring, share your crop budget, including input costs, advises Jenny Rhodes, University of Maryland Extension educator. Ask your landlord about their preferred means of communication such as texts, phone calls or newsletters, and determine how often they want updates.
“Get the landlord out riding in the tractor,” Rhodes says. “One-on-one is still very important.”
In central Iowa’s Polk County, Lee Tesdell, who owns Tesdell Century Farm, has a cash-rent agreement with neighboring farmers Mike and Charles Helland. Tesdell says he and the brothers work collaboratively on conservation projects because the land is an asset they all care about safeguarding for future generations.
There’s also a clear division of labor so the Hellands have the freedom to operate as they wish. Tesdell says he doesn’t tell the Hellands which corn variety to plant or which fertilizer rates to use.
“It’s not really my business to tell them I prefer non-GMO corn seed,” says Tesdell, a professor of technical communication whose interest in conservation began as a 10-year-old 4-H member. “But I do think it’s my business to take care of the land.”
Tesdell Century Farm has been in no-till for more than 20 years, has had cover crops for five years and is in a corn-soybean rotation. Tesdell says if the Hellands recommended planting continuous corn, he’d intervene. “It has to do with the health of the soil and the water that runs off in the tile,” Tesdell says. In corn years, they also discuss anhydrous application timing.
Finally, use springtime to plant the seed for future land-improvement projects and begin to explore ways to limit the financial burden of upgrades. Tesdell’s farm is enrolled in the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, so they are required to plant a mix of at least two cover crops yearly. This past fall, they planted cereal rye and tillage radishes, and they’ve already started discussing what to plant later this year. They apply for cost-share dollars and then split any out-of-pocket payments 50-50. “We try to keep it fair, and we try to do the right thing for soil health and water quality,” Tesdell says.
Invite your landlord into the planning process for a successful spring, and the results will last year-round.