Guide urges communication between landowners, farmers
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The University of Maryland released a guide for farmers last month that encourages better communication between landowners and producers to boost conservation practices on leased acreage statewide.
Farmers on leased land often avoid or ignore conservation practices because they don’t have a written contract with the landowner or are uncertain how long their lease will last, said Sarah Everhart, managing director of the university’s Agricultural Law Education Initiative.
“It’s a problem nationwide, and the causes of the problem are the same,” she said. “In a lot of cases the landowners and the farmers don’t talk very much.”
There are about 851,000 acres of leased farmland in Maryland or 42 percent of the state’s total farm acreage, according to the USDA’s 2012 agricultural census. While 66 percent of the state’s farm acreage was enrolled in a cover crop program in 2017, as of 2012, less than 4 percent of it was enrolled in federal conservation programs, the initiative’s guide said.
“Conservation practices are not commonly used on leased land for a variety of reasons, including inadequate communication between landowners and farmers, limited understanding of conservation programs and available cost-share funding, and a lack of security in the rental relationship,” the guide said.
The state law initiative, working with the university’s Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology, began putting together the guide last year after receiving a grant that would pay for student interns, including undergraduate and law school students, who could help assemble the guide. It also helped defray the costs of the guide’s design and pay for workshops the initiative plans to hold across the state.
The grant will help the law initiative provide two years of assistance to farmers implementing conservation practices on leased land.
“Conservation practices are going to lead to more profitable farmland, more productive, better soil,” Everhart said. “It’s a win-win.”
Several organizations from Maryland’s soil conservation districts to the National Resources Conservation Service and the state agriculture department can help farmers and landowners put conservation into practice on their farmland. The guide discusses adding a depreciation schedule to a lease, which prorates costs and encourages a farmer to invest in conservation practices.
It poses questions for farmers considering conservation practices and suggests sample lease provisions for those such as riparian buffers and woodchip bioreactors.
One of its most important recommendations: Agree to a written contract with the landowner.
“I think a lot of times the breakdowns in relationships comes from misunderstandings,” Everhart said. “A lot of people have handshakes, frankly, until they get burned. The handshake works until it doesn’t.”
The Agricultural Law Education Initiative is a collaboration between the university’s law school and its agricultural colleges in College Park and on the Eastern Shore. It was created to help farmers better navigate the state’s complex network of agricultural and environmental laws.
The guide can be found on the university’s website at the following address: http://agresearch.umd.edu/agroecol/educationoutreach/agricultural-conservation-leasing.
The initiative is holding a series of seminars to help farmers draft leases that include conservation practices:
• Lower Shore Workshop: Dec. 10, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tri-County Council for the Lower Eastern Shore, Salisbury Md. Registration information: https://go.umd.edu/conservationleasingls;
• Mid-Shore Workshop: Jan. 8, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Chesapeake College, Wye Mills Md. Registration information: https://go.umd.edu/conservationleasingms;
• Southern Maryland Workshop: Jan. 17, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Charles County Soil Conservation District, Waldorf Md. Registration information: https://go.umd.edu/conservationleasingsmd;
• Western Maryland Workshop:Jan. 23, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Frederick County Extension Office, Frederick Md. Registration information: https://go.umd.edu/conservationleasingwmd; and
• Central Maryland Workshop: Jan. 28, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Baltimore County AG Center, Cockeysville Md. Registration information: https://go.umd.edu/conservationleasingcmd.