Check out this this Farm Bill infographic from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, recently shared on the Greenhorns blog.
Check out this this Farm Bill infographic from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, recently shared on the Greenhorns blog.
Are you a new or aspiring farmer looking for land, capital, skill development, or business planning advice? Or, have you been farming for a few years and are now considering diversifying, expanding or reaching new markets? The New Farmer Project is offering in-person farm business consulting at the upcoming NOFA-VT Winter Conference this weekend, February 15-16.
Why sign-up for a coaching session? Planning and managing a new farm operation can be a complex process. New farm business consultants will help each participant complete a farm business assessment, identify top priorities for developing the farm business and then develop an action plan for moving forward. Farm business consultants will also be prepared to share resources and programs available to help new farmers succeed.
Preregistration is encouraged since there are only a few appointments left. Register now…
If you have questions, email email@example.com or call 802-223-2389 x203.
Farm lease agreements can be complex legal documents, but they don’t have to be. Behind every legal provision there is a meaning, a purpose and a potential benefit to both parties of having such language in the lease. I sometimes work through lease agreements with farmers or landowners, and witness their eyes glazing over when we read through a sample provision that is two paragraphs long. I reassure them, “Don’t worry, there’s a real meaning! Edit it down! Have the lease agreement work for you!” Lease language, first and foremost, needs to make sense.
A 200-page lease agreement makes the farming arrangement no more successful than a two-page agreement. In fact, if I had to choose, I’d bet on the two-pager being the product of the stronger relationship! It is the mutual understanding and clarity you develop alongside each written provision in a lease that paves the way for success.
The fact is in some cases you might need more detail, and in others you might not. The only way to know is to first understand why the particular language is needed, and how it could apply to you. Then you can determine if you need more wording, you can say the same thing with less, edit the wording to meet everyone’s needs or if the agreement looks just right.
A lease agreement is much more than a legal document protecting your interests and rights. It is a template for developing common ground on key points before the lease term starts.
And a good lease agreement sets up a process for intentional communication between farmer-tenants, landowners and other potential support entities during the lease term.
In summary here is a good way to approach developing a lease agreement you can relate to:
Below are three provisions that should be included in every lease agreement, why they should be included, and what to talk through when examining them.
Permitted and Prohibited Uses
This is the meat of every lease. The reason why this is such an important provision is that farmer-tenants’ and landowners’ might have different ideas of what might be reasonable to do as part of a farming operation. Everyone has a different threshold for tolerance when it comes to trash and cleanup, everyone has a different expectation of what kind of storage method is reasonable, and everyone has varying assumptions about what else might come along with a particular type of farming.
Communicate perceptions and intentions. The best thing a prospective farmer-tenant can do is think of the five senses. Then brainstorm every possible change that might take place during the lease – anything that would change the look, sound, smell, feel or even taste of the place—and communicate this to the landowner. The best thing for the landowner to do is to be up front and provide honest feedback about every one of these possible scenarios. Share opinions about the circumstances under which a particular practice might be acceptable or unacceptable. For instance, the landowner might be fine with two 18’ x 96’ greenhouses going up, but not right by the property entrance.
And perhaps the most important part to this provision: An agreed upon process for clarifying down the road what is permissible vs prohibited, when there is grey area.
It is extremely difficult to predict every change that will happen, especially at the outset of a multi-year lease. By nature, people change, and other unforeseen factors influence decision making or perceptions over time. To account for uncertainty, parties to a lease can agree and document a process for future communication when there is question. For example, a common strategy is for the lease agreement to describe how a farmer-tenant, whenever there is a proposed new activity, improvement or change to the land or buildings during the lease term, gives the landowner a written description of the details of the proposed activity before it takes place. The landowner then typically has a preset reasonable time period for requesting more information or responding with a determination of whether or not the activity is permissible. Identifying a time for regular meetings between farmer-tenant and owner throughout the lease term for discussing questionable activities is another good strategy that can achieve the same end.
Care for the Land
I actually have not seen this provision in a lease labeled as such, but it is a good descriptor for what these types of provisions cover: Assurances to the landowner about what will be done to steward the land responsibly to minimize pollution, conserve soils, protect water quality, follow local, state, and federal environmental laws and not degrade the land. Landowners are ultimately liable for any environmental laws that are broken, so they will often want, if not require these kind of assurances. In Vermont, the Accepted Agricultural Practices are the minimum environmental standards that farmers are expected to follow, and they can be referenced in this provision in the lease.
Any other assurance the farmer-tenant can give to the landowner will help, such as providing for a way for both parties to have a regularly scheduled meeting with conservation district or NRCS staff to address resource concerns. A conservation plan can be developed with assistance from these entities. While it might not be practical for farmer-tenants to implement every environmental improvement under the sun, they can at least convey while developing the lease agreement the steps they might take. Caring for the land not only is important for meeting the landowner’s expectations, but in the long run is in the best interests of the the farmer-tenant to ensure the resource base stays productive.
Successors, Heirs and Assigns
A successor, heir or assign is anyone who could assume legal control or ownership of the property beyond the landowner signing the lease. Farmers typically want to know that the lease arrangement will stay the same regardless of who has future control of the property. If there is an unexpected death, this could be the executor of a will or spouse or sibling. It could be a brand new property owner. Who knew the owner would sell the farm at the time of initially developing the lease agreement? This provision is intended to protect the interest of the farmer-tenant, and it is really #1 in terms of providing tenants with the guarantee they need to operate on leased land, and not get kicked off the land by a future owner.
These are some key provisions. Try to minimize your assumptions when developing a lease arrangement. Instead, converse, clarify and confirm. Talk through everything possible, using sample lease agreements as a template that you and/or your attorney can later edit and customize to your particular situation. It will be well worth the initial effort, paving the way for a fulfilling arrangement every year of the lease.
If you’ve been thinking about starting a farm, don’t miss your last chance to take Growing Places this winter. Offered online, this four-module course introduces new farmers to important topics, resources and services integral to getting their farm started off right. The deadline to register is December 13, 2013. The course will begin the second week of January.
The online class format includes self-paced modules and discussion boards, allowing participants to fit in class time when it works best for their schedule. In addition, a weekly webinar allows for real-time presentations and Q&A. All webinars are recorded and can be viewed later for those who cannot participate in the live presentation.
Growing Places is the UVM Extension New Farmer Project class developed specifically with aspiring farmers in mind. Class participants learn about goal setting, resource evaluation, risk management, market and financial planning and decision-making.
Intro to Ag Financial Management will be the last class offered for the winter season. Register by January 5 to receive the Early Bird discount. Beginning February 5 in Burlington and White River Junction, the 3 session class instructors will introduce participants to basic farm business financial statements and record keeping. For more information about this and other classes offered by the UVM Extension New Farmer Project, visit our Classes Page.
In the past 12 weeks, Vermont has transitioned gracefully from a lush landscape of pastoral bounty to a quiet, snowy world that is saying goodbye to its crop fields for the winter. The farmers I talked to who were busy bringing in the harvest in September are now slaughtering their Thanksgiving birds and getting out their calculators to add up the wins and losses for the year. Before I leave to go back to warmer climates I want to reflect, just as any good farmer would.
I am a newcomer to Vermont, and my preconceived notions about the state were, for the most part, pretty well-informed. I thought of this state as a place that cherishes equality and favors quality of life above monetary gain. One thing I learned in my internship with the New Farmer Project is that supporting these ideals with a small farm makes it difficult to become profitable. Even so, there are some very creative and resourceful people who have and fulfilled their values by using collaboration to their advantage. Here is how I have seen these ideals employed in Vermont farms:
Equality. I have come into contact with many women who have proved that females can be just as good at farming as males. At the Draft Animal Power Field Days in Barton, VT, I listened to a forum of Women Teamsters talk about the gifts that women can bring to farming with horses and oxen, and how empowering it can feel to move earth with a trustworthy animal by your side. Through the Women’s Ag Network (WaGN), hundreds of women farmers over the past couple of decades have received education, training, and monetary support through the Vermont Farm Women’s Fund. Opportunities for collaboration and sharing at the 17th Annual Women’s Economic Opportunity Conference, hosted by Senator Patrick and Marcelle Leahy, presented the opportunity for businesswomen to network and learn together.
Not only do these opportunities exist, but they are being fully embraced by the strong, healthy, smart women who are getting their hands dirty and practicing skills that have traditionally been left to men. Perhaps the most amazing thing about these women is that they are raising families, too. They are heroes of housewifery, which Wendell Berry calls, “a complex discipline acknowledged to be one of the bases of civilization,” and they are raising children with skills and knowledge to continue the beautiful practice of agrarian sweat and the art of manual labor.
Quality of Life. One theme that is apparent from my exposure to farms in Vermont is that almost no one is farming simply to make a profit; there is inherently a passion and a desire for a certain quality of life that really drives the business. Some people can connect better with cows than they can to other people. Some people want to supply ethically raised meats to their communities or to give people in urban areas access to fresh, organic produce that is more local than that from California. Some want to raise their children to understand the importance of hard work or to have compassion for the earth. Many people just want to be their own bosses and not have to answer the phone.
Because everyone’s idea of “quality,” is different, each and every farm ends up taking on its own characteristics that reflect the personality of the owner. Unlike large industrial farms where the monoculture crops are grown for maximum efficiency and profitability, small family farms just aren’t so easily forced into a model of productivity. This often limits the farmers’ ability to compete with the highly mechanized and large-scale farms, but for one certain differentiation: the food tastes better and is more nutritious.
There are many other examples where I have seen redeeming family, environmental, community, and ethical values trump the drive for profit on farms around the state, and I have seen that the people who put these values first have to work extra hard and be creative to figure out how to make the farm viable. That Vermont supports its farms makes a huge difference to the success of these small farmers.
Thanks for the fall, Vermont! I can’t wait to return.