September 21, 2023

Extension Notebook: Communication strengthens the farmer and landowner relationship

Most relationships between landowners and farm tenants are solid with mutual respect. However, I’ve seen more than a few of what I would describe as “bad” owner/farmer relationships. Even more problematic in some ways is when the relationship is stale. Landowners hire farm managers for a various reasons. One reason is that the owner perceives communication issues with their farmer.

More than one might think, many landowners who have never farmed themselves feel unqualified to have frank discussions with their farmer and may feel intimidated. Some farmers struggle to communicate with landowners, and some are concerned their landowner may learn too much and be more demanding. Other farmers do not realize their landowner is frustrated. On very few occasions, I have found strained relationship to not be repairable.

I believe that being proactive on both sides helps the farmer/owner relationship flow smoothly. Anecdotally, I find the best farms out there are a result of a strong and open relationship between the landowner and farmer. For example, if a farmer knows that drainage tile is needed, it is a hard sell to get a landowner to pay for drainage improvements, if the owner has not been engaged in what is going on the farm.

Here are some suggestions for both sides to consider using to help the relationship become and remain strong:

• Farmer: Ask how often the owner wants communication, how they want to be contacted, and what information they want/need.

• Owner: Tell the farmer how often you want communication, how you want to be contacted, and what information you want.

• All lease agreements for farmland should be in writing and clearly understood. The temptation for both sides to agree with a promise, a handshake, and a smile is not wise. Get the lease in writing to help reduce the risk of misunderstandings.

Owners do not always know what information they need. The landowner should ask for either hard copies, digital copies, or both. If the landowner does not want the records, the farmer should go ahead and keep the records for them and have them available if asked for later. Sometimes it’s necessary to have records going back in history, so the farmer is doing a good thing in keeping these for the owner. The owner may not know what the record means, so farmers should be prepared to explain them. Below you will find helpful communication lists for both the farmer and the landowner.

Records and Communications for Farmers to Provide to Landowners:

1. Soil test results.

2. Copies of liability insurance policies and naming landowner as co-Insured.

3. Yield history for at least 10 years and longer.

4. Production records including planting dates, crops planted, fertilizer/lime applied, seeds used/planting rate, tillage practices, yield maps, herbicide applications, and similar data.

5. Crop plans prior to planting.

6. Grain elevator deliver sheets for verifying production.

7. Grain sales records (crop-share leases where farmer actively sales owner grain).

8. Crop insurance records verifying yields.

9. Tile improvement records and GPS waypoints of improvements and maps.

10. Records from USDA (Farm Service Agency and NRCS): Form 578 —The purpose of the form is to collect acreage data to determine program eligibility; Form 156EZ; CRP and other environmental program forms and communications; commodities and disaster program forms.

11. Narrative of the year: Short summary and a longer narrative; weather; challenges; chemical spills; checklist of meeting lease requirements.

12. List of needs of farm improvements and repairs.

13. Photos/videos.

14. Concerns of the landowner and farmer.

15. Emergency contacts

16. Emergency disaster plans.

17. Updated phone numbers, emails, and addresses.

18. IRS 1099 NEC forms and Tax IDs

Records for Landowners to Provide to Farmers:

1. Review of expectations in detail.

2. Emergency contact information.

3. Tax IDs.

4. Past drainage and other improvements.

5. Environment hazards or concerns.

6. Future plans.

The list may seem like a lot to do, but farming is a multimillion-dollar endeavor. Landowners trust farmers with a very valuable asset. Farmers make risk decisions based on trust with the landowner. Both sides should take the management of the information that involves farming seriously. Farmers who provide this information are taking big steps in securing a good long-term relationship. Farmers likewise should be interested in having a landowner that is knowledgeable and concerned about the farm. Having such information organized will help the landowner in making needed improvements on the farm. Putting the above documents into a binder or into a computer will be a nice way to make the records look professional.

Kevin Brooks is a farm business management and marketing educator serving Fulton, Mason, Peoria and Tazewell counties for University of Illinois Extension.