We recently sent out some mailers to owners of farmland in the Midwest. Our goal was to introduce landowners to Tillable and show them the potential cash rent they could earn by leasing their land using our Hassle-Free Lease.
We expected these letters to spark conversation. After all, sending direct offers to landowners with potential cash rent amounts is not something that’s been done in this industry before. We admit it was a bold move. However, we were surprised by the amount of misinformation that circulated and how fast these rumors spread. Frankly, it tells us we weren’t clear enough about why and how we sent these direct mail offers. We’d like to clear up the confusion by answering the questions we’ve heard.
What’s Tillable all about?
First and foremost, our goals are to:
- Create transparency and fairness in farm rent pricing.
- Ensure good land stewardship.
- Improve communication about farmland.
- Provide farmers with equal access to learn about and potentially rent available farmland.
What is the Hassle-Free Lease?
We lease farmland directly from landowners for one to three years. We pay them up front and in full for the term of the lease. Our process begins when we make a cash rent offer to lease a landowner’s farm based on publicly available information on both the land and current rental prices. We finalize the agreement with the landowner after more specific discussions about the farm and the owner’s goals for the land, and after a due diligence process in which we confirm all the relevant farm details. Making sure the landowner receives rent that’s in line with their farm’s value and their goals for the farm, and receives information to track the performance of the land, is one way we achieve our goal of creating transparency and fairness in farm rental.
Another way we encourage fairness is by using our marketplace to promote that land to farmers. This is not an auction process; tenant decisions are based on making sure the right farmer is on the right land, not the highest bidder. Each farmer who wants to make an offer to rent a farm on Tillable must fill out a profile that allows them to tell their story. When offers are being evaluated, these profiles play a big role in helping to determine which farmers make the short list—we’re looking at the total picture, including your qualifications and values, and whether they match the goals for the farm. These factors are in many ways more important than the dollar amount. Two offers can look the same when only compared based on dollars; they start to look very different when compared based on the values and experience of the people behind them. This process helps level the playing field for farmers looking for more land to rent, helps us find a qualified farmer to operate on the land, and ensures the rent is in line with what the local market says is fair.
We provide the tools for farmers and landowners to share information about the activities on farms they rent through Tillable—including yield and fertilizer data. This data is used to improve communication about the land and create transparency by demonstrating farm performance and land stewardship.
How did Tillable build its mailing list?
If you received a letter from Tillable, it’s because you pay property taxes on farmland. This is publicly available information. We didn’t send letters to every landowner everywhere. From the publicly available info, we are able to choose to send mail to landowners of farms in particular states or counties or of certain acreage amounts.
We want you to know that we didn’t target specific farms, landowners or farmers. This was a deliberate decision made with the intent to provide information, and educate folks about their options. We’ve had success helping a variety of landowners—from retiring farmers transitioning to renting out their land, to remote landowners, to people who inherited the family farm. Whether landowners like this decide to work with Tillable or not, we want them to know their options so they can make an informed decision.
To be very clear: From property tax records, we don’t know with certainty who’s a farmer and who’s a non-operating landowner. We don’t know who is farming a particular piece of land, which also means we don’t know who a farmer’s landlords are. We’re working on ways to avoid sending offers to farmers actively farming land they own. We’re learning and trying to improve. And while it disappoints us, if you do receive mail from us and you’d prefer not to, all you have to do is let us know to remove you from our mailing list.
How did Tillable come up with the rent offers in these mailers?
Our offers were formulated by an algorithm using publicly available data from the USDA and USGS. These sources allow us to take into account factors such as farm soil rating, average county rent and average county yields.
We will get better and more accurate at formulating these offers, and we know we need to do that. We are limited by what we can tell from publicly available information, so we have to talk to landowners to really figure out what’s best for their situation.
Was Climate FieldView data used for these offers?
No. Some folks remembered we announced a platform integration agreement with Climate FieldView in October. That led to rumors that we were somehow using FieldView data to target landowners or make offers. It’s just not true, full stop.
We entered into the integration agreement because we wanted to make it easier for farmers to share data with landlords for farms they rent through Tillable. Simply put, farmers who use Climate FieldView and rent a farm through Tillable would have been able to connect those accounts by explicitly opting in to seamlessly share the data on that farm. We were disappointed when the agreement was canceled because it would have made things easier for farmers in that situation.
Did Climate share any farmer data with Tillable?
No. It simply never happened—and it couldn’t have. The integration between Climate FieldView and Tillable wasn’t live yet. Even if it had been, farmers would have had to proactively link their accounts for any data to transfer, and they would have only been asked to share data on the farms they specifically rented through Tillable.
Does Tillable have access to all of a farmer’s data?
Tillable doesn’t have access to any farm data at all unless that farmer gives us access. This applies whether the data comes from a precision ag tool or written receipts. The only agronomic data a farmer is required to share is the data for a farm they are renting through Tillable.
Why does Tillable require farmers to share agronomic data?
We believe that transparent sharing of data is critical to the successful and sustainable management of farmland.
To rent a farm through Tillable, a farmer must agree to share data about that farm with the landlord. Farm-level data is crucial to the shared stewardship of the land, and all the parties involved should have that information. When we rent land from landowners through our Hassle-Free Lease, this promise that they will receive real data about their farm is a cornerstone of the agreement. The data is used not only to service and execute the terms of the lease between the landowner and Tillable or the farmer and Tillable, but to create reports that demonstrate farm performance and land stewardship expectations are being met.
The landlord is ultimately responsible for the land. It’s our stance that landowners have a right to the information about the productivity and stewardship activities on their farm. If you don’t want to share data with the landlord, you shouldn’t rent a farm through Tillable.
Tillable isn’t for everyone, but there are people we can help
Some landowners find out through talking to us that they’re fairly rented and their situation is good. They don’t need us.
Some landowners have rented to the same farmer for years and they’re perfectly happy with that relationship. We respect their choice.
Some landowners will talk to us and we’ll tell them we’re not a great fit. To date, of the landowners who’ve reached out to us to talk about whether or not their current rent is fair, we’ve told more than half of them that they were either already in or above the range we’d expect for their farms. We can still help those landowners with tools to have better visibility into the data on their farms, but we can’t—and really shouldn’t—get involved in their rent price.
But we’ve talked to landowners who have been under-rented by 50 percent or more because they don’t know what’s going on with their farms and they don’t know how to talk to their tenant about making a change. We can help them do that.
We’ve also talked to landowners who just want an easier way to do things. They just need to know the farm is being taken care of. We can help them too.
And while some farmers will choose not to rent through Tillable because they’re satisfied renting the way they always have, we’ve also talked to farmers who can’t get a foot in the door with landowners in their area. That’s keeping them from expanding their business. Other farmers are frankly overpaying for some of the ground they rent. It’s important to us to help them too. We’re trying to make farm rental fair and more open, and use data to help folks have productive conversations and make decisions about what’s best for themselves and their land.
We think it’s critical for landowners and farmers to have options in farm rental, and we are working hard to be a great option. We want to continue getting better all the time. If you have ideas for new ways we can help create transparency, fairness and growth for landowners and farmers, please reach out to us. If not, that’s okay. Please know that we’re listening.
For more information
We’ve been grateful to have opportunities to address this topic in the press: