How tenant farmers and landlords can communicate better
August 30, 2019

How tenant farmers and landlords can communicate better

As more farmland owners turn to lease agreements with tenants who will actually farm the land, certain sound investment practices are becoming even more imperative.

Proper communication is one of those practices that all farmland owners must practice with their tenant farmers. Better communication will lead to better returns on their investment.

However, good communication does not come easily for some. Communication is often identified as a challenge for producers and landowners. Owners can often feel left out of the loop on how the land is being farmed and what issues the tenant is facing. On the other hand, tenants may not even know that the landower wants to be informed of what is going on, let alone know how best to keep landowners informed.

In most cases, though, poor communication between landowners and farmers is completely correctable. We have collected more information and several tips that can help you create more effective communication habits with your tenants.

Leasing farmland is common, especially in Iowa

Knowledge of how to better communicate with tenant farmers is incredibly useful knowledge for many landowners in Iowa. That’s because, according to Iowa State University, more than half of all Iowa farmland is rented to a tenant farmer.

In many cases, landowners fall into one of two common categories. Some are landowners who have farmed that ground in years past, but are retired now and leasing to other producers. The other group tends to be comprised of owners who have never farmed themselves.

Both cases represent opportunities to create strong communication habits, share knowledge and keep farmland at peak productivity.

Tenants: The basics for communicating with landowners

At a basic level, tenant farmers should always try to keep landowners updated on a few bits of key information regarding their farmland.

First, the tenant should provide their landlord with information about their objectives and what they wish to achieve through the farm operation for the coming season. From there, layout a cropping plan for the landlord if they wish to be part of that conversation. Then, keep landlords updated throughout the season on progress.

In addition, tenant farmers should be prepared to inform and educate landowners, many of whom have an honest desire to know more about current farming practices. They may have little to no knowledge of farming at all.

It is also a good idea to build relationships by keeping landowners informed of family events and by also encouraging meeting face to face when possible.

Tenants: Create a farmland lease annual report

One solution proposed by Iowa State University to improve communication between landowners and tenant farmers is to consider creating and distributing a farmland lease annual report. The primary role of this document is to create a thorough channel from which communication can flow - and it can be kept on record for future reference and comparisons between years.

In the report, producers can keep track of actions taken throughout the season and report on results later in the year or from the previous season. This could include information such as crops planted, seed variety and rate, and dates of actions taken. Other sections would include tillage system type used for the crops, recording of fertilizer applications, as well as soil and land improvements, just to name a few examples.

Tenants: Send out a farm newsletter

Iowa State’s other useful communication tool suggestion for tenants is to compile and mail out a farm newsletter. This can be a simple process that provides a quarterly or semi-annual update on all things happening on the landowners’ land.

Tenants can include descriptions of their plans for the upcoming time period covered in the newsletter, information on work that has been done and specific successes or challenges that have come up.

Tenants can make this newsletter as detailed or as simple as they desire. It could be used as a comprehensive rundown on everything the landowner would want to know, or it could be seen as a summary and potential conversation starter. Which layout works best will be determined between the farm tenant and landowner.

Either way, Iowa State University recommends including at least the following key elements in newsletters: title, tenant contact information, content, updates following previous newsletter, crop progress/pasture condition/livestock development, weather updates, commodity prices, technology, summary and upcoming events.

Landowners: The basics for communicating with tenants

Landowners who lease their farmland can still help ensure tenants can meet their objective through better communication.

The first step in creating better communication strategies is to have a written lease document that details terms of all agreements relating to the farm operation and land. From there, landowners may need to get curious, ask questions and seek answers when necessary.

Landowners could also suggest tenants compile reports and newsletters to better share information. Another option is for landowners to take the lead in scheduling regular meetings.

However, it is important for landlords to know that tenant farmers will get busy and communication could get spotty at times. Simply stay patient and know that communication can be tough in peak seasons.

Landowners: Acknowledge tenants’ risk and hard work

Farming is hard work. Some landowners know this, but others may not have the strongest appreciation for this fact. Farming is also risky. Landowners would do well to acknowledge these possible stressors in communications with tenants.

If it works out, arrange some sort of crop-sharing agreement so that you, as a landlord, can share some of the risk. This could also extend to cost sharing for things like land updates and improvements.

Landowners: Stand back when needed

Finally, landowners must know when too much communication becomes a burden itself. This is why we have suggested tips like developing an annual report and newsletter sent from the farmer to the landlord.

Always keep in mind that your tenant farmer has a business to run.

Experience farm management can help

When it comes to establishing better communication strategies between tenant farmers and farmland owners, an experience farm management team can be a valuable asset.

At Cotton-Grave Farm Management, we can help landowners select tenants, hold annual conferences to help tenants, develop crop share and cash rent management agreements and so much more to help our clients succeed.

Contact us for more information on how Cotton-Grave can help you accomplish your goals.

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