- Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, technical assistance
- Sustainable Communities: community planning, local and regional food systems, public participation
The value of land in Connecticut has risen dramatically in recent years. By 2007, the real estate value of Connecticut farmland had reached $12,667 per acre. Farmers in Southern New England typically face higher land prices than they can afford. As a result, high farm real estate values have fueled a growing reliance on leased farmland. According to the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture, 30 percent of farm operators in Connecticut rely in part or entirely on leased farmland. Farmland owned by non-farming individuals, land trusts, or municipalities, represents an important source of affordable farmland for Connecticut farmers. Unfortunately many of these farm parcels are fallowed due to a lack of information about how to structure a tenancy agreement with a farmer. Towns and land trusts that have conserved farmland often lack the staff or expertise to assess the opportunity to lease the land for agricultural use. When these lands are made available, the conditions for use are often so narrowly restricted or proscriptive that the land contributes little to a farm’s economic gain. Oral leases, also known as “tenancy at will”, are prevalent in the region but hold few advantages for the tenant farmer. Such arrangements are tenuous and easily broken, posing great financial risk for the tenant. Landowners that are unwilling to tie up their land for long periods of time but wish to be eligible for certain tax benefits sometimes favor short-term written leases. Start-up farmers might prefer the flexibility of a short-term lease, but there is little financial incentive to invest in stewarding the farmland and its structures if the tenancy is short. By contrast, supportive, long-term leases can result in better stewardship of farmland, facilitating crop rotations, improvements to soil fertility, and investments in farm infrastructure or conservation measures. In order to increase the availability of affordable land through leasing arrangements and to ensure that leased land can help support and sustain farm businesses, additional attention is needed on fostering successful tenancy arrangements. Although sample lease agreements from around New England are available through various sources, there is no single source of information tailored to a Connecticut audience, nor is there an outreach service or education program designed to address the questions and concerns raised by towns, land trusts, and private non-farming landowners. As a result, many towns and land trusts have developed lease agreements without the benefit of agriculture expertise or guidance, or have been uncertain about where to begin. In 2007, American Farmland Trust (AFT) launched a municipal outreach program called CT Planning for Agriculture to introduce a broad range of tools available to help local governments plan for the future of agriculture in Connecticut. Through this program, we have seen a growing interest among town officials and their conservation partners in becoming farm-friendly communities. This includes a new interest and willingness to lease town-owned farmland and, in some cases, to establish “community farms,” which typically blend non-profit local food access and agricultural education objectives and a for-profit commercial business arrangement with a new farmer.
Project objectives from proposal:
American Farmland Trust (AFT) plans to foster this interest and excitement among municipalities and land trusts in leasing land and establishing community farms by producing a statewide Farmland ConneCTions Guide. The guide will be collaboratively developed by a group of Expert Advisors, including farmers who are currently farming leased land and have negotiated supportive long-term lease arrangements. The guide will serve as an important resource on farmland leasing considerations and provide sample lease agreements for towns, land trusts, and private non-farming landowners. The guide will also contain case studies of community farms in the state in order to demonstrate various management structures and options for this emerging new farm entity.
An important publication we will use as a resource for our project is “Holding Ground: A Guide to Northeast Farmland Tenure and Stewardship,” published in 2004 by The New England Small Farm Institute ($30.00). This publication provides an excellent review of the principles and challenges of leasing farmland, considerations for the landowner and farmer, and the different practicalities between short-term and long-term leasing. Holding Ground also contains a useful appendix of sample leases. While the Holding Ground publication contains several relevant examples, the Farmland ConeCTions Guide will feature Connecticut case studies and will tailor sample lease and tenancy arrangements for Connecticut landowners. Unlike Holding Ground, which targets private farmland owners only, AFT’s publication will also guide towns and land trusts through the process of farmland leasing. AFT’s guide will be free and widely available through land trust networks, municipal associations, and traditional agriculture service providers operating in the state.
By producing a state specific resource like the proposed Farmland ConneCTions Guide, agriculture advocates will be able to steer non-farming landowners, including towns and land trusts, toward tenancy agreements that will support the long-term viability of agriculture business in the state. Just as our CT Planning for Agriculture Guide (published in 2008) has fueled the establishment of local agricultural commissions and comprehensive changes in municipal agriculture regulations, we anticipate the Farmland ConneCTions Guide changing how leasing agreements will be shaped between non-farming landowners and farmers in the future.