Just about everyone involved in U.S. agriculture agrees that conservation is important. They also agree that putting conservation into practice on rented farmland can be challenging, especially when the lease is for only one or two years. Now, a new study hopes to make it easier for farmers and their landlords to implement conservation practices.

"There is a concern on rented land that perhaps there's not as much conservation happening," though there's reason to think those concerns can be addressed successfully, said Gabrielle Roesch-McNally, director of American Farmland Trust's Women for the Land.

American Farmland Trust recently released a report on "Understanding and Activating Non-Operator Landowners: Non-Operator Landowner Survey." with the goal of "clearing up misconceptions and identifying opportunities to advance conservation on agricultural lands owned by those who do not farm it." The survey focused on land owned by individuals or partnerships, not institutions or trusts.

American Farmland Trust describes its mission as taking "a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work." Its Women for the Land initiative "works with women non-operating landowners and farmers via women-centered learning circles to increase knowledge on conservation, climate resistance and farmland succession planning."

About 40% of all U.S. agricultural farmland is farmed by people who don't own it. The figure is as high as 80% in some counties. Conservation practices often are implemented over many years, which is complicated when land is rented, especially on a one- or two-year lease. A farmer who invests time, effort and money on conservation on rented land may no longer be farming it when the benefits begin to show up.

The new study offered these suggestions to help non-operator landlords, or NOLs:

  • Cultivate greater awareness among NOLS of government conservation programs.

  • Amplify NOLs' willingness to support their farm operators with conservation practices.

  • Reach out to both female and male NOLs "to improve outcomes on rented land."

  • Encourage NOLs to take opportunities to strengthen their ties to farming, the land and community.

  • Encourage succession planning among aging NOLs. Doing so makes it likelier that conservation practices can be implemented on farmland owned by those NOLs that's ultimately passed on to one or more people.

Roesch-McNally said that NOLs with agricultural experience generally are more amenable to conservation practices.

Coming up with recommendations is one thing.; getting NOLs to put them into practice is another., Reaching out to female NOLs is at least part of the solution. So is promoting conservation through newsletters, websites, as well as through partnerships with government agencies such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service and organizations such as Pheasants Forever and Nature Conservancy, she said.

"Finding those folks through creative methods is to really empower them with with some kind of knowledge about what resources are available," Roesch-McNally said. "Just empowering them with information can drive action."

In some cases, farmers may assume incorrectly that their landlord isn't concerned about conservation. "Our work is just busting that myth. We hope this report is one way of starting conversations." she said.

To read the report: https://farmlandinfo.org/publications/understanding-and-activating-non-operator-landowners.