Here's what to look for when searching for a successful tenant farmer
February 26, 2021

Here's what to look for when searching for a successful tenant farmer


There are too many factors to count that can work for or against a farm in any given year. So many, in fact, that it is nice to know what can actually be counted on to be consistent – or at least as consistent as possible – year in and year out.

That is why many farms are only successful when their operator, whether that is a owner or a tenant farmer, puts in maximum amounts of effort, perseveres through challenges and works toward reaching their goals for themselves and for the land.

Landowners who do not farm the land themselves also want that type of attitude from their operator. So, it is critical that they know they can trust the tenants farming their land to put in the type of effort that generates success and surpasses goals.

But how do you find a tenant farmer like that? Well, here are some qualities and characteristics to keep a watchful eye out for when you are searching for tenants or evaluating current lease agreements.

Leasing farmland is common

If you are on the lookout for a good tenant, then know that you are not alone. Many landowners in the United States do not actually farm their land themselves, while others are still actively farming other land that they own.

In 2016, according to the latest data from the Department of Agriculture, just shy of 40% of agricultural land in the country was rented to tenant farmers. If we are talking cropland, then that percentage rises to about 50%. The percentage for rand used to raise livestock is lower at 25%.

Of that land that is rented, most owners are not active farmers themselves. In fact, about 80% of rented farmland is owned by non-operator landlords. This accounts for about 30%, or 283 million acres, of all the farmland in the country.

So, needless to say, there is almost always someone else out there in the same boat as you if you are searching for a farmer tenant. It’s just a common practice these days.

Most tenant/landlord relationships last

Here’s some good news: Once you find a good tenant, they are probably likely to stick around for a while.

According to the USDA, 70% of rented land has been rented to the same tenant for more than 3 years and 28% has been rented to the same tenant for more than 10 years.

This means that it can sometimes be a little tricky for tenants to find new land to farm. If you can find the good ones, then be sure to hold onto them.

What to look for in a tenant farmer

But what actually makes a good tenant? Well, here are some of the qualities and characteristics that we have noticed over the course of our many years of experience in farm management that make a reliable, trustworthy and successful tenant farmer.

Good tenants know their goals and objectives

When you set out to find a tenant, think of the process as though you are hiring an employee. In some ways, these situations are very similar to employment, especially depending on the type of farmland lease that is being used.

Now, one of the things you would ask a potential employee during a job interview is for them to describe their own goals and objectives. Like a job interviewee, a good tenant farmer should be able to provide you with a clear answer to this type of question.

They should be able to communicate not only their goals and objectives, but also how they intend to meet those goals and accomplish their objectives.

If your vision aligns with theirs, then you may have a match. Shared values are always a positive sign, as well.

Communication and honesty are key

As a landlord, you will need to be able to communicate well with your tenant for many potential reasons. Neither of you should be afraid to initiate communication when appropriate, but in many cases, it will fall to the tenant to keep you updated (based on your preference level) as to what is going on with the farm, what challenges they may have come across and how well the operation is performing.

You will also want to ask questions that can lay out a track record of honesty for any tenant you are screening, too. Communication only works when both parties are honest with each other.

Check the tenant’s references

Are you sensing a theme here? Again, this is another step that an employer would take when making a hire for a business, but it is absolutely important.

Always ask for and follow up with a tenant’s references. Good tenants will have maintained positive relationships with other landowners, whether they are currently leasing land with them or not.

References should be able to back up the fact that a potential tenant is a person of good character and can be trusted to operate and produce for your land as they have done for others.

Successful tenants will have done their research, too

If a tenant you come across has many questions for you about your land or your own goals – don’t look the other way. This is a good sign that they also are looking for the best relationship possible with a potential landlord and know what they need in order to be successful.

Expect a well-prepared tenant to ask you many questions that will help them be more knowledgeable about your land, including access to services, proximity to other land, existing easements, your own personal preferences for the land’s use, etc.

Tenant selection is just one aspect of our farm management services

Finding a good tenant farmer who will contribute to your success as a landowner can be a challenging task. But when you partner with Cotton Grave Farm Management, tenant selection is just one of the many service areas in which we go above and beyond to make sure your goals and objectives are met.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you find the right tenant for your land.


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