How to Tell a Great Farmer from a Good One

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Here’s how to tell if your farmer is really going the “extra mile” to make sure your farm is as productive and healthy as it can be.

As a landowner, it’s likely your main goal to know that your farm is being used productively and efficiently while being well cared for. After all, you’re looking for your farmer to be a partner in making sure your land is healthy and profitable over the long term. Most landowners will say they have a good farmer, particularly if they’ve worked with that farmer for many years. However, if you have a truly great farmer—one who goes the extra mile to prove they treat their leased land like their own—it’s important to recognize it so that you can show your appreciation, and continue to cultivate that extremely valuable relationship.

Here are a few tips to help you determine if you have that coveted “great” farmer that all landowners dream of working with to care for their farms.

Looks matter

Most farmers can produce a good-looking crop. But farmers who truly have pride in the land they farm want the appearance of the land to reflect their commitment to the stewardship of every property they have in their operation. A good farmer has a well-controlled weed population in the field. A great farmer has the same in the fencerows, keeps the ditches mowed and maintains access driveways, too.

Going beyond the baseline

It’s an expectation in almost every cash rent situation that the farmer will take care of basic land maintenance. However, sometimes cosmetic maintenance items like spraying fencerows are included in the lease, and sometimes they aren’t. (Tip: you should absolutely include these things in your lease, no matter what.) The farmers who do these things without the requirement—or who actually suggesting including them in the lease—are truly great. That’s because a great farmer, like a great landowner, knows how important it is for both parties to share a commitment to the best farm maintenance.

An eye for improvements

No landowner should ever expect or ask a farmer to install improvements or complete repairs on their own dime, but a great farmer will be diligent about documenting repairs that need to be done. After all, for most landowners, their farmers will spend more time on their land than they will—having those extra eyes on what needs to be done can be invaluable. When your farmer can present an organized and thoughtful case for new improvements (such as drainage tile, terraces, surface drainage, etc.), you’ve got a partner who’s thinking about not just their own interests, but yours as well, because your land will perform at its best when it’s maintained properly. Great farmers are also willing to help you find a contractor and obtain estimates for repairs, which is useful for landowners who aren’t close to the farm and don’t know the local community as well.

Communication is key

We’ve covered this topic in several other articles, but it bears repeating: a good farmer will provide you with any info and reporting that is required in the lease, but a great farmer will want to show you more. They will want you to know when the crop has been planted and when harvest is going to get rolling. They’ll also want to show you how they are increasing the production on your property, and back it up with yield maps. When a farmer can outperform the soils on a property (in other words, they can turn a good farm into a great one), they should want to show it off and prove that they are maximizing the potential of that farm.

Your responsibilities as a landowner

Don’t leave all the work up to your farmer; you have a job to do, too. Great farmers need the support of great landowners. You need to be receptive to the advice your farmer gives you about land improvements and property repairs. Farmers inherently look for ways to improve their operations, and improving their operations also means improving your farm. If your farmer presents a well-prepared case, you need to at least consider it. Additionally, your lease needs to make it clear that necessary repairs not caused by the farmer will be covered by you. Your farmer should never feel pressured to pay for repairs.

Also, stay curious about your farm and its operations. Even if you don’t live near your farmland, you should want to know about the new things your farmer is trying and implementing in their operation to increase production and reduce input expense. An involved landowner should be excited to ask about and learn what their farmer might be trying to do differently next year.

Every farmer, just like every farm, is different. As a landowner, if you’ve been able to identify your farmer as a great farmer, make sure you let them know it! And make sure you set your expectations for any future tenants at the level they’ve established. After all, the best relationship between a landowner and farmer is one built on trust, and trust is built on demonstrated verified performance.

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