Problem and justification
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.
Beneficiary audience, solution and approach
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 will engage 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. The Agriculture Law Education Initiative (ALEI) and the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology created an Agricultural Conservation Leasing Guide (currently in draft form). Through an introductory informational webinar (recorded and available for future download) and a series of 5 regional workshops, this project will equip beneficiaries with the knowledge, skills, tools, and confidence to educate and advise farmers and landowners how to overcome the challenges of using conservation practices on leased land. The service providers will be encouraged to bring interested farmer-landowner pairs to the workshops. In response to the 2017 survey, 67% of respondents stated they were either interested or very interested in attending a regional workshop to learn how to teach farmers and landowners to discuss common conservation goals and then use a lease to encourage the implementation and management of conservation practices on leased farmland.
Performance targets from proposal:
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.