Frequently asked questions
How could conservation practices benefit the land?
Practices that improve soil health can offer lots of benefits both on the farm and off the farm.
Cover crops and no-till management help to reduce erosion, keeping the most productive soil in the field rather than washing or blowing away.
They can also increase the organic matter in the soil, which helps the soil act like a sponge- rainfall is able to soak into the ground rather than run off the surface. Using these practices over the long term will result in fields that are more productive, especially in excessively wet or dry seasons.
Healthy soils also sequester more carbon, helping to reduce the impacts of climate change, and prevent nutrients from leaving the field and polluting local streams and rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay.
What impact will soil health practices have on my bottom line?
Generally speaking, soil health is a long game. Landowners who want to improve the health of their soil recognize that they’re investing in the long-term productivity and value of their land.
Farmers are more likely to adopt soil health practices on the land that they own than the land that they rent. They also see soil health as an investment that pays off over time, and their decision to adopt those practices is weighed against the likelihood that they’ll still be farming that land when the benefits.
Why a written lease?
A multi-year, written lease is a valuable tool for giving farmers the certainty that they need to adopt soil health practices.
You and your farmer should also consider the establishment and maintenance costs of conservation practices and agree on what you’re each willing to contribute, including financial, cost-share and non-monetary contributions.
A clearly written lease defines those expectations and contributions that you and the farmer agree upon and helps to avoid miscommunication.
Find more information using the Ag Conservation Leasing Guide.
(This work is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, through the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program under subaward number ENE18-151)
How long should the lease be?
This is up to you and your tenant farmer. Some experts recommend at least 3-5 years to see the benefits of cover crops and no-till management. Others say the longer, the better- to write a lease agreement for a term of 5 years, 10 years, or longer, if you can.
In any case, there are multiple options to consider that can help to make a leasing agreement more flexible to the benefit landowners and farmers. A right of first refusal clause, for example, can be written into a lease when the landowner wants to retain the option to sell their land, that also provides some assurance to the tenant farmer.
What’s the best way to start a conversation?
Here are a few questions to help open a conversation with your tenant farmer about cover crops, no-till farming and soil health:
- Does anyone use cover crops or no-till around here?
- Are there characteristics of the farm that could be improved with conservation practices (such as soil erosion, surface water runoff, excess nutrient levels in the soil, etc.)?
- To the landowner- what are your future plans for the farm?
Where can I go for help?
Conservation Districts and NRCS provide technical assistance to farmers and landowners to protect the natural resources on their land. They can identify resource concerns on a piece of land and work with the farmer or landowner to develop a conservation plan. They may also be able to connect you with financial assistance to adopt conservation practices on your land.
Extension specialists are affiliated with land-grant universities, and can provide research-based expertise to answer all kinds of questions related to agriculture and environmental stewardship.
The Agriculture Law Education Initiative (ALEI) began in 2013 in response to a realization that Maryland’s farm families need more information about the laws that impact their operations. ALEI is comprised of legal specialists and other extension specialists who help farmers understand and comply with state, federal and local laws and regulations. ALEI legal specialists stay up-to-date on legal issues and educate growers and producers on relevant laws as well as available resources.