Attention, landowners. Don Donovan wants to know what the most important point of discussion is when you talk about your farm with your tenant each year. Are you tempted to change tenants when offered a few more dollars of cash rent? Do you discuss how your land will be farmed, or just settle on the bottom line — the cash rent rate?
Donovan is a district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and a contributor to Indiana Prairie Farmer’s Salute Soil Health column. He suggests it’s important to discuss things like soil test results, tillage systems and use of cover crops — not only cash rent.
“When you take a drive around your farm, what do you see?” Donovan asks. “Do you see a field that has had fall tillage with very little, if any, crop residue to protect the soil surface? Do you see gullies that have formed after heavy rains in fields that have no residue to protect them? Do you see large areas of water standing because tillage has caused compaction, or lack of soil structure that reduces the soil’s ability to have water infiltrate?
“Or do you see something totally different?” he continues. “Are fields covered with undisturbed residue from last year’s harvest? Are grass waterways and field borders installed to control runoff?
Face these realities
Donovan suggests that if you own and rent out land, you ought to consider these five points. Make decisions on what you want your farm to look like, he emphasizes.
1. Remember that you are the owner, and it’s your land. You have the right to suggest changes, and you have the right to request changes, Donovan says.
2. You may have to compromise with your tenant. If you want change, it may mean you agree to a lesser cash rent payment while change is being implemented, Donovan notes.
3. You may have to return part of your cash rent payment to the farm. Investing in drainage, lime and cover crops will provide a return on your investment, improve productivity and make your farm more valuable.
4. If you want cover crops on your farm, it may require action. Perhaps you need to offer to help your tenant with the cost of implementing cover crops.
5. You should be involved in how your farm is operated. That land is your bank account, Donovan says. It’s also the bank account of future generations. He believes you have a right to plan for the best future possible for your land.
“Become more involved in the management of your farm,” Donovan says. “Talk to your tenant about how, together, you can leave your soil in better heath for your children and grandchildren than when you took over as steward of your farm! Help is readily available — as close as your local soil and water conservation district and NRCS office.”