NJDA hosts meeting of farmers looking for land
TRENTON — A late February meeting at the New Jersey Department of Agriculture building brought together farmers from all over the state and even a few from New York.
The evening seminar on Feb. 28 was part of a series of workshops regularly offered.
The low-cost seminars teach prospective farmers how to negotiate and purchase that most valued asset, land.
Speakers included Cindy Roberts, SADC Development and Training Coordinator, Dave Kimmel, Agricultural Resource Specialist, Chuck Roohr, Farmland Stewardship Manager and Jessica Utaal, Acquisition Affairs Coordinator.
All spoke to a gathering of about 40 prospective and established farmers looking to negotiate leases for land or looking to purchase land outright.
Roberts stressed at the outset that by being there in the NJDA’s auditorium, patrons would discover there are networks of people who can be helpful as they go down the path to leasing or purchasing land.
“If you have people that you can reach out to, it can be comforting, and reassuring,” Roberts said, “we all work for the SADC and we’re also available to you at any time” with questions via e-mail and phone.
“We’ll compare different types of leases, identify elements of a good lease, assess impact of landlord motivations on your operation, identify what you require versus what you desire in a leasing situation, and determine the types of leasing situations that best advance your business and personal goals,” Roberts explained.
“The SADC leads the preservation of New Jersey’s farmland and provides innovative approaches to maintaining the viability of the Ag industry,” Roberts said.
Here in the Garden State, one of the biggest barriers beginning farmers face is access to land.
“While some beginning farmers can afford to buy land, most turn to leasing to start a new farm because of high land costs,” she added “Finding secure long term leases can be difficult.”
Kimmel offered an overview of long-term land leasing, and noted that of the 715,000 acres of farmland in New Jersey, close to 40 percent of that land is farmed by somebody who doesn’t own it.
In New Jersey, he said, “the cost of land averages about $13,000 per acre, but the average cost of a lease per acre per year is $130.
So you can see why so many people have turned to leasing,” Kimmel said.
Questions to ask when looking for land to lease include: Are you ready to lease land? Have you assessed your financial resources? And for those with little or no experience farming, the rather obvious matter is to spend a few seasons working on a farm first.
Kimmel’s comments were echoed by the other speakers, who urged want-to-be land leasing farmers to get things spelled out in written contracts with great specificity. Lease agreements should spell out the relationship between the parties, and what one party is getting in exchange for what the other party is doing. There are short-term leases and long-term leases, [longer than three years,] Kimmel noted, “and there’s a lot more you can put in the standard leases to create more clarity and security for yourself and the other party.”
“Things to think about include what you need for your farm business to be successful, are there improvements that you need to add to the land, and can you [legally] make them. Hunting rights are another element to think about,” he said, given the out-of-control deer pandemic in most parts of the state.
SADC staffers handed out plenty of sample land lease and land purchase contracts and patrons at the workshop broke into small groups several times through the course of the evening to work through various details that come up in real estate contracts.
“Another basic thing to keep in mind is that leases may be oral or written and [sometimes there are] leases on a handshake,” he said, “then there’s not that much protection if something happens to go awry, so it’s worth it to have a written lease and how you might want to have that discussion with someone who hasn’t done that before. The more you put in there, the more clarity there is for both parties,” Kimmel said. Whether you own the land or lease it, “that doesn’t mean you can do anything you want, at the state level there’s wetlands regulations,” he said, and at county and local level there may be other ordinances affecting farmers outside the purview of the state’s Right-to-Farm regulations.
Chuck Roohr and others pointed out that land can often be leased from a farmer who is gearing up to retire and can’t efficiently farm the acreage he or she owns.
“All landlords have different motivations and it’s going to help if you go to your landlord with your [proposed] lease arrangement and understand what their motivations are. A farmer who’s in the process of retiring may want to educate you: they know where the wet spots are, what crops have done well for them and this and that, they’ll probably want to be a bigger part of that process, and they may want to educate you,” Roohr said.
Non-farming landlords may not be that familiar with the vagaries of the farming life, he said, “so in that case you may end up educating them.”
Information on land leasing and purchasing arrangements can be found on the SADC website. That website is also a place to inquire and sign up for future land access workshops.
Call the SADC, within the Dept. of Agriculture in Trenton at 609-984-2504 or point your web browser to: www.nj.gov/agriculture/sadc.
Those considering farming as a second career or beginning farmers looking for land to lease or purchase may also contact their local Rutgers Cooperative Extension agriculture agent, and for those interested particularly in organic farming, a useful website is www.njlandlink.org.
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925