Landowners have significant power to shift the way their farms are managed. Even when they are not actively farming, landowners can put in place lease agreements that will ensure their stewardship values are reflected in their agricultural acres. Such plans can be a win-win: over time, investing in increasing a farm's soil health will protect and improve the land as an asset for the landowner while resulting in reduced costs of production for the renter.
Such stewardship-based lease agreements require good communication and the willingness to work with the goals, and limitations, of a renter. For the renter, the costs of utilizing practices such as cover cropping may involve an investment in different equipment, as well as a steep learning curve. There are various ways a landowner can work with a renter to shift practices in way that work practically for both. In addition, when stewardship values are not being put in place, landowners must be ready to seek a new renter who is more willing to adopt practices that build soil health.
To help landowners understand options and consider ways to act, in 2018 the Land Stewardship Project and the League of Women Voters developed a pair of "Farmland Ownership and Rental: Managing for Stewardship" workshops. We assembled a “toolkit” for people seeking to utilize leases that emphasize building soil health and other conservation practices. Tools that were developed include: tips on how to hold conversations with renters, lease templates, guides on setting rental rates for soil building practices, and background materials on soil health.