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Landowner communication

Farmers wouldn't dream of neglecting to schedule routine machinery maintenance prior to harvest. Yet they often overlook the need to make sure their landowner relationships are firing on all cylinders.

As more landowners join the ranks of absentee owners and nonfarm heirs, regular tune-ups may avert a major communication breakdown.

Record-setting land values and fierce competition for acres also mean that few farmers can afford to own the majority of their land base. Renting ground is critical.

“Some landowners may be satisfied with business as usual, but second-generation owners often expect and require more,” says Mark Gannon, US Farm Lease, Ames, Iowa.

Sharing data

Farmers often are introverts, and they tend to share information only on a need-to-know basis. A recent Iowa State University survey of 1,200 farmers shows that they communicate with their landlords about farming approximately eight times a year. However, 49% communicate about three or fewer times per year, and 11% had no communication.

This needs to improve, Gannon says. He commonly fields landowner questions about farm worth and fair rent. “I can't possibly answer without knowing the productivity of the farm,” he says. “It's not just the CSR. It's fertility levels and other management practices. Many owners, especially if they cash-rent, don't have good data to use as a basis for decisions. Often, tenants aren't willing to give it up.”

Although sharing data might be seen as a drawback, it can be a selling tool, Gannon says. “Some farmers make it part of their sales pitch to provide annual reports, along with maps and yield monitor results. Many owners aren't dissatisfied with tenants, it's just that they never hear anything from them.”

Steps to take

Mid- to late summer is a prime time to recalibrate faulty landowner relationships by taking these three steps:

1. Plan A crop tour.

Invite landowners to see the condition of the crop and to get a briefing on growing conditions, expected yield, and other factors.

2. Send photos and updates.

When personal visits aren't possible, pictures of crops at various stages of maturation help bridge the gap. This is especially critical when weather conditions are adverse. Include photos of maintenance and other improvements. For older landowners, email isn't a substitute for phone calls or regular mail.

3. Help landowners access information.

Prior to discussions about next year's contract, share information from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and soil and water conservation districts. Discuss the outlook for the farm bill. 

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