Agricultural Conservation Leasing Guide Education Series

Final report for ENE18-151

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2018: $159,380.00
Projected End Date: 04/01/2021
Grant Recipient: University of Maryland Francis K. Carey School of Law
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Project Leader:
Sarah Everhart
University of Maryland Francis K. Carey School of Law
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Project Information

Summary:

This project addressed the well-known issue of agricultural conservation practices being implemented less often on leased farmland. The issue is multi-faceted and is caused by communication breakdowns between farmers and farm landowners, landowners without knowledge of farming and conservation practices, and a lack of farm leases that address conservation standards and practices. Prior to the initiation of this project, there were not available resources to provide farmers and landowners who wanted to overcome the inherent challenges of installing conservation practices on leased farmland.

The project was structured as a train-the-trainer and engaged agricultural service providers from the University of Maryland Extension, USDA-NRCS, Maryland Department of Agriculture, and non-profits and other agricultural service providers (Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts), in a comprehensive education program about agricultural conservation leasing. Farmers and landowners were also invited to attend the workshops. The products developed for the project included an Agricultural Conservation Leasing Guide, copies of PowerPoint slides used during the workshop, and follow-up materials consisting of recorded webinars, informational handouts, and a tax information resource. Following the train-the-trainer workshops, the agricultural service providers were encouraged to utilize the educational products to aid farmers and farm landowners in better communicate conservation priorities, educate landowners about appropriate practices, and form leases that support on-farm conservation. The project team provided two years of technical support to the agricultural service providers and inquired about the status of their educational efforts 6 months, 1 year, and 2 years following the workshops. Of the 78 agricultural service providers who were trained, 22 of them in the years following the workshops, used the project materials and teachings to educate 167 farmers and 184 farm landowners. Following the education, 50 farmers and 71 landowners reported making efforts to communicate about leasing, and 58 farmers made efforts to use conservation practices on leased farmland.

 

Performance Target:

Performance target for service providers

40 agricultural service providers provide education on how to initiate communication about conservation values and form farm leases with conservation provisions such as adherence to a farm conservation plan or the implementation of practice such as a grassed waterway and/or riparian buffers to 75 farmers and 15 landowners.

Performance target for farmers

20 of the farmers and 8 of the landowners who receive the education initiate communication with the other party in the leasing relationship about agricultural conservation leasing goals. 10 farmers make efforts to use conservation practices on leased acres. These efforts may include agreeing to follow the terms of a farm conservation plan, applying for cost-share funding or technical assistance for a conservation practice, entering into a new lease with conservation practice provisions, amending an existing lease to include conservation practices, using an agricultural conservation practice or expanding the use of an agricultural conservation practice.  

Introduction:

Farming can create unintended environmental impacts which can be lessened with conservation practices. Approximately 42% of the farmland in Maryland is leased (2012 Census of Agriculture) with the exception of the state cover crop and conservation tillage, conservation practices are much less likely on leased acres. Landowners may be less likely to communicate about conservation practices because they are less educated about the business of agriculture. Farmers may not communicate about conservation practices because they don’t want to risk disrupting the business relationship and/or they don’t have the necessary lease term or financial assurances to make an investment of resources on leased land.  There is a need for landowners and farmers and agricultural service providers who advise them to receive educational guidance in this area.

According to the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture,  the number of leased acres in Maryland is 850,512, amounting to 42 percent of the total farmland. Although the state cover crop program and conservation tillage are popular conservation practices, just under 4 percent of Maryland’s agricultural acres are enrolled in federal conservation programs. Further, in 2017 only 23 percent of the Maryland Agricultural Water Quality Cost-Share (MACS) contracts for conservation practices are with tenants. The reasons why farming conservation practices are less likely to be found on leased land include: a lack of communication between the parties to the lease, indefinite lease terms and/or financial uncertainties.  Service providers need tools to advise farmers and landowners how to communicate about conservation goals. A lease is one way to codify the outcome of a conversation about mutually agreed upon conservation goals. In a 2017 survey of 74 Maryland agricultural service providers, 73% of respondents stated they were either interested or very interested in teaching farmers and landowners how to use a lease to encourage the implementation and management of conservation practices on leased farmland.

This project is engaging staff from: University of Maryland Extension, USDA-NRCS, Maryland Department of Agriculture, and non-profits and other agricultural service providers (Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts), in a comprehensive education program about agricultural conservation leasing. 

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

The project provided service providers with education and resources to help farmers and landowners both communicate about conservation goals and use a written lease to achieve those goals.  The education consisted of an informational webinar, five regional workshops and two years of technical support. Attendees received information about the reasons why conservation practices are less likely to be found on leased land and communication and leasing solutions. The project equipped the service providers with the knowledge, skills, tools and confidence to teach and advise farmers and landowners who want to incorporate conservation practices into their farm leasing arrangement.

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

1. 100 service providers receive project announcement and invitation to attend a webinar and regional education workshops on agricultural conservation leasing. June-September 2018.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
100
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2018
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
December 21, 2018
Accomplishments:

Recruitment efforts included the following: 

Presentations in 2018:

Maryland Land Conservation Conference, May 17 (audience was landowners and agricultural "ag" service professionals),

Maryland Association of County Agricultural Agents, June 21(audience was University of Maryland Extension Agents)

Maryland Association of Soil Conservation District, July 30 (audience was farmers and service professionals),

Lower Shore Land Trust Landowners Workshop, September 5 (audience was landowners),

State Ag Commission, September 12 (audience was farmers and ag service professionals),

Healthy Soils Consortium, October 3 (audience was farmers and ag service professionals),

Eastern Shore Land Conservancy Landowners Workshop, November 2 (audience was landowners),

Agricultural and Environmental Law Conference, November 8 (audience was farmers and ag service professionals)

Chesapeake Bay Commission Working Group, November 15 (audience was ag service professionals),

Central Maryland Agronomy Day, December 12 (audience was farmers), Maryland Nutrient Management Conference, December 12 (audience was farmers). 

Interns, during the summer of 2018, created promotional materials and initiated communications with land trust organizations in an effort to enlist them to inform their stakeholders about the event. 

The event was publicized in two different press releases and has received press coverage in the Delmarva Farmer. 

In addition to using the Agriculture Law Education Initiative and Hughes Center's website, newsletters and email lists for promotion, we also requested and received assistance from the following organizations.  All of the following organizations have either included the workshops in their newsletters and/or emailed the workshop information to their members/stakeholders: University of Maryland Extension, Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts, Maryland Farm Bureau, Maryland Environmental Trust, Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission, Future Harvest-CASA, and the Maryland Natural Resources Conservation Service.  

We have also utilized social media (twitter and facebook to recruit for the workshops) and continue to do so. Here is a copy of the flyer we have been using for promotion: ACL Workshops Flyer

Milestone #2 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

2. 35 landowners receive project announcement and invitation to attend a webinar and regional education workshops on agricultural conservation practices on leased land to increase the likelihood that farmer-landowner pairs attend the workshops. June-August 2018. (The project team interns work with nonprofit organizations, land trusts, MDA, etc. to identify and inform landowners about the project. Assuming, agricultural service providers will have more trouble recruiting non-farming landowners (not their typical clientele).

Proposed Completion Date:
August 31, 2018
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
November 8, 2018
Accomplishments:

See recruitment effort details outlined above. 

Milestone #3 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

3. 40 service providers and 25 landowners who register for the informational webinars and/or workshop will complete a baseline survey and indicate their commitment to the project goals. Landowners will be asked to indicate the number of leased acres they own. Service providers who express commitment will also be asked to identify landowners and farmers to attend and participate in the educational workshop.

4. The 40 service providers and 25 landowners attend (or later download) an informational webinar which explains the project and the upcoming regional education workshops.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
40
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
10
Proposed Completion Date:
October 31, 2018
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
November 15, 2018
Accomplishments:

We had 10 agricultural service providers attend the informational webinar. I attribute this low registration number to the fact that Maryland had a late harvest and many people associated with agriculture were very busy late into the year. Also, given the number of presentations and amount of  information that had been disseminated on the project by November 10, many folks were already registered for the workshops and simply didn't need additional information. Given the lack of interest for this event we decided not to ask those who participated to commit to project goals and instead moved the evaluation questions and request for commitment to the workshop registrations as detailed below. That being said, all of the presentations for recruitment included a request for ag service providers to identify and invite interested farmers and landowners. 

Milestone #4 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

5. 40 service providers and 60 farmers and 30 landowner co-learners attend the project workshop offered in five regional locations and learn how to initiate communication about conservation values and forming farm leases with conservation provisions. (These numbers are based on the assumption that not all service providers will be able to bring a farmer-landowner pair, are more likely to bring multiple farmers in certain locations and it will be more difficult to recruit landowners, some of whom may be out-of-state residents, see Milestone 2 for landowner outreach efforts) December 2018- March 2019

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
60
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
40
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
31
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
78
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2019
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
January 29, 2019
Accomplishments:

The first workshop was held in Salisbury, Maryland on December 10, 2018. There were 15 total attendees consisting of 10 agricultural service providers, 3 farmers, and 2 agricultural landowners. 

The second workshop was held in Easton, Maryland on January 8, 2019. There were 26 total attendees consisting of 18 agricultural service providers, 6 farmers, and 2 agricultural landowners.

The third workshop was held in Waldorf, Maryland on January 17, 2019. There were 31 total attendees consisting of 17 agricultural service providers, 7 farmers, and 7 agricultural landowners. 

The fourth workshop was held in Frederick, Maryland on January 23, 2019. There were 26 total attendees consisting of 13 agricultural service providers, 11 farmers, and 2 agricultural landowners. 

The fifth workshop was held in Cockeysville, Maryland on January 28, 2019. There were 28 total attendees consisting of 20 agricultural service providers, 4 farmers, and 4 agricultural landowners. 

According to the results of the survey distributed at the conclusion of the workshops, 3% of attendees rated the workshop as good, 42% of attendees rated the workshop as very good and 53% rated the workshop as excellent. As a result of the workshop, 97% of attendees indicated their knowledge of agricultural leasing principles had either increased or greatly increased, 69% reported their knowledge of the agricultural sector's role in the Chesapeake Bay clean-up had either increased or greatly increased, 86% reported their knowledge of the challenges to installing conservation practices on leased farmland had either increased or greatly increased, 94% said their knowledge of how to communicate conservation goals and priorities had either increased or greatly increased, and 97% felt their knowledge of how to incorporate conservation into leases had either increased or greatly increased. When asked via the survey what actions the attendees planned to take based on what they had learned at the workshop 90 attendees indicated future actions, such as "begin to discuss conservation and goals for the land with the landowner", "discuss with landowners and farmers in day to day work", "take leasing knowledge and resources to farmers and landowners so they can incorporate more conservation practices", and "implement more conservation practices and more specifics in our leases".  Attendees were also asked to indicate what types of ongoing technical support would be helpful. The majority indicated additional written materials would be helpful, followed by in-person support and webinars.  

 

Milestone #5 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

6. 40 service providers receive teaching resources including workshop slides, Agricultural Conservation Leasing Guide, Agricultural Leasing in Maryland, Conservation Choices for Maryland Farmers and verification surveys for use in their work. (December 2018-March 2019.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
40
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
31
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
78
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2019
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
January 29, 2019
Milestone #6 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

7. 40 service providers are contacted and interviewed on project status six months following the workshops to report on educational programs conducted or planned, and what support or technical assistance they need for conducting their educational work with farmers and landowners. (June-September 2019)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
40
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
78
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2019
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
September 30, 2019
Accomplishments:

All of the agricultural service providers who attended the workshops (78) were contacted via email and by phone and interviewed about their progress and questioned about forms of technical support. 20 agricultural service providers have reported using what they learned at the workshop to educate 62 farmers and 103 landowners. 27 farmers have communicated with a landowner about the topic. 42 landowners have communicated about the topic and 27 farmers have made efforts to use conservation practices on leased acres.

Agricultural service providers requested technical support in the form of additional copies of the Agricultural Conservation Leasing Guide, information on how to structure cost-share for conservation practices, and one-page informational fact sheets about the project. In response, the project team creating a webpage to house resources, including a link to the Agricultural Conservation Leasing Guide, and three customized one-page informational fact sheets (For the Farmer: Using a Lease Protects Farmers and Supports Conservation, For the Landowner: How to Use a Farm Lease to Support Conservation Practices, and Financial Incentives of Ag Conservation Leasing).  Also available on this page is a presentation educators can use to provide agricultural conservation leasing education and a copy of a webinar conducted by the project team (described below).

 

Milestone #7 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

8. 40 service providers receive support and technical assistance from the project team as needed for their work with farmers and landowners throughout the term of the project. This will consist of questions asked and answered via phone, email or in person. (January 2019-March, 2021)

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
40
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
78
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2021
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
March 31, 2021
Accomplishments:

The agricultural service providers have received support and technical assistance from the project team in the form of questions asked and answered via phone, email and in person. 

 

Milestone #8 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

9. 40 service providers attend webinars created and hosted as a way to refresh the service providers’ recollection of the information learned at the workshop, remind them of the project goals and inform them of the answers to frequently asked questions about the project from other service providers. The webinars will be interactive and allow for peer-to-peer learning. (January 2019-March, 2021).

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
40
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
56
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2021
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
March 31, 2021
Accomplishments:

A webinar on "Structuring Cost-Share for Conservation on Leased Land" was held on June 5, 2019 for agricultural service providers. 26 service providers attended the webinar and it has since been downloaded an additional 26 times. The webinar was meant to refresh the service providers’ recollection of the information learned at the workshop, remind them of the project goals and inform them of the answer to the most frequently asked question the project team had received which was how to effectively structure cost-share for conservation practices on leased land.  The webinar was interactive and allowed for peer-to-peer learning. An update webinar on the project was held on November 12, 2020. Fourteen participants of the workshop tuned into the webinar and it has been watched 30 times since the recording was made available online. The webinar was structured to allow peer-to-peer learning. At the 40.05 mark in the update webinar you can hear a farm landowner discuss that her "goal as a landowner is to maintain farmland as farmland which in today's world is getting more difficult" and attending one of the project workshop's helped her to be able to form two leases with her farmers which she feels has strengthened her operation. 

Milestone #9 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

10. 40 service providers are contacted and interviewed on project status one year following the workshops to report on educational programs conducted or planned, the initiation of communications between leasing parties about agricultural conservation and efforts made to incorporate conservation into leases (such as the creation of a lease or the amendment to an existing lease. (January-March 2020).

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
40
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
22
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2020
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
March 31, 2020
Accomplishments:

Upon being interviewed one year following the workshops, 22 agricultural service providers reported educating 96 farmers and 72 farm landowners. 22 of the farmers reported communicating with a landowner about the project. 28 landowners reported communicating with a farmer about the project and 29 farmers reported making efforts to use conservation practices on leased acres. 

Milestone #10 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

11. 40 service providers complete and return final verification survey to report educational programs conducted, the initiation of communications between leasing parties about agricultural conservation leasing goals and efforts made by farmers and landowners to incorporate conservation into farm leases. (March 2021).

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
40
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
6
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2021
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
March 31, 2021
Accomplishments:

At the final verification assessment, 6 service providers reported educating 9 farmers and 9 landowners. Of those educational contacts, 1 farmer and 1 landowner made efforts to communicate with the other party to the lease and 2 farmers reporting making efforts to use conservation practices on leased acres. One of the service providers, who works for a local land trust also reported sending educational information about the project via newsletters to 92 people electronically and 690 in print. 

Milestone Activities and Participation Summary

Educational activities and events conducted by the project team:

15 Consultations
7 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
15 Published press articles, newsletters
3 Webinars / talks / presentations
5 Workshop field days
8 Other educational activities: Following the workshops the project team was invited to speak about Agricultural Conservation Leasing Project at the Maryland Land Conservation Conference on May 16, 2019, the Maryland Association of Soil Conservation District Annual summer conference on August 6, 2019, the Northern Maryland Field Crops Day on December 6, 2019, the Delaware Agriculture Week presentation on January 13, 2020, Your Land and the Long View- Working With Farmers to Protect Your Investment Webinar Series, July 14, 21, and 28, 2020 and Farm Leasing and Conservation Practices: Incentivizing Secure Tenure and Climate Resilience Online Workshop, November 19, 2020.

Participants in the project’s educational activities:

5 Extension
22 NRCS
5 Nonprofit
33 Agency
30 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
31 Farmers/ranchers
380 Others
138 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities

Learning Outcomes

78 Agricultural service providers reported changes in knowledge, skills and/or attitudes as a result of their participation.
31 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
20 Ag service providers intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned through this project in their educational activities and services for farmers
Key areas in which the service providers (and farmers if indicated above) reported a change in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness::

As a result of the workshop, 97% of attendees indicated their knowledge of agricultural leasing principles had either increased or greatly increased, 69% reported their knowledge of the agricultural sector’s role in the Chesapeake Bay clean-up had either increased or greatly increased, 86% reported their knowledge of the challenges to installing conservation practices on leased farmland had either increased or greatly increased, 94% said their knowledge of how to communicate conservation goals and priorities had either increased or greatly increased, and 97% felt their knowledge of how to incorporate conservation into leases had either increased or greatly increased.

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance Target Outcomes - Service Providers

Target #1

Target: number of service providers who will take action to educate/advise farmers:
40
Target: actions the service providers will take:

40 agricultural service providers provide education on how to initiate communication about conservation values and form farm leases with conservation provisions such as adherence to a farm conservation plan or the implementation of practice such as a grassed waterway and/or riparian buffers to 75 farmers and 15 landowners.

Target: number of farmers the service providers will educate/advise:
75
Verified: number of service providers who reported taking actions to educate/advice farmers:
28
Verified: number of farmers the service providers reported educating/advising through their actions:
167
Verified: amount of production these farmers manage:

n/a

Activities for farmers conducted by service providers:
  • 167 Consultations
28 Total number of agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
167 Farmers reached through participant's programs
Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

The 78 service providers who attended the workshops were contacted via email, online survey, and (the majority) by direct phone communication. Of the 78 service providers contacted, 28 reported verified actions to educate farmers and landowners about conservation leasing.  The service providers performed the education through one on one consultations with farmers and landowners. Although the number of service providers who took action following the workshop was less than we originally estimated, the total number of farmers (167) and landowners (184) the service providers were able to reach was greater than we anticipated. This indicates to us that there are a limited number of trusted providers of this type of information and, once given the information, these service providers are able to disseminate it to a great number of agricultural stakeholders. 

Performance Target Outcomes - Farmers

Target #1

Target: number of farmers who will make a change/adopt of practice:
20
Target: the change or adoption the farmers will make:
20 of the farmers and 8 of the landowners who receive the education initiate communication with the other party in the leasing relationship about agricultural conservation leasing goals. 10 farmers make efforts to use conservation practices on leased acres. These efforts may include agreeing to follow the terms of a farm conservation plan, applying for cost-share funding or technical assistance for a conservation practice, entering into a new lease with conservation practice provisions, amending an existing lease to include conservation practices, using an agricultural conservation practice or expanding the use of an agricultural conservation practice.
Verified: number of farmers who made a change/adopted a practice:

58
Performance target outcome for farmers narrative:

When the service provider participants were contacted six months and one year following the workshops each was asked if they knew if their education resulted in farmers making efforts to use conservation practices on leased acres. Following the education, 50 farmers and 71 landowners reported making efforts to communicate about leasing, and 58 farmers made efforts to use conservation practices on leased farmland. Examples of actions that we categorized as meeting this target outcome included: Agreeing to follow a conservation plan; applying for cost-share funding or technical assistance for a practice, entering into a new lease with conservation practice provisions, amending an existing lease to include conservation practices; and/or using or expanding the use of an agricultural conservation practice.  The service providers that reported these actions cited new and amended leases which included specific practices such as the use of buffers and cover crops, the requirement to follow a conservation plan in a lease and the agreement of the parties to pursue cost-share for conservation practices in a lease. 

 

Additional Project Outcomes

1 Grant applied for that built upon this project
Success stories:

According to one workshop attendee who is an agricultural service provider who helps with the leasing and management of approximately 17,000 acres of farmland in Maryland and Delaware, "I already had some references to following a conservation plan in the 50 leases that I manage but the workshop was a great reminder of how specific conservation practices can be addressed in a lease. Following the workshop, I had discussions with the farmers and landowners I work with and they were amenable to adding practices to their leases such as riparian buffers, required setbacks from drainage ditches, grass buffers, enhanced habitat areas and the required use of a cover crop." 

During an update webinar in November, 2020 a farm landowner who had attended one of the workshops shared her "goal as a landowner is to maintain farmland as farmland which in today's world is getting more difficult" and attending one of the project workshop's helped her to be able to form two leases with her farmers which she feels has strengthened her operation.  

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

The key to the success of the project was the train-the-trainer educational approach. Farm leasing is a subject that most farmers and farm landowners want to keep relatively quiet and they typically only feel comfortable discussing the details of farm leasing with trusted service providers and professionals. By equipping agricultural service providers with the educational information relating to using leases to support conservation, the information was able to be distributed to the farmers and farm landowners via trusted conduits. 

Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.