Professional Development for the Adoption of Sustainable Agriculture on Rented Land

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2000: $43,483.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Michael Bell
Dept. of Community and Environmental Sociology, U. of Wisconsin-Madison

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Agronomic: corn, oats, soybeans, grass (misc. perennial), hay


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, housing, parasite control, animal protection and health, grazing - continuous, feed additives, feed formulation, free-range, herbal medicines, homeopathy, implants, inoculants, manure management, mineral supplements, grazing - multispecies, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, preventive practices, probiotics, range improvement, grazing - rotational, stockpiled forages, vaccines, watering systems, winter forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: decision support system, extension, farmer to farmer, focus group, networking, participatory research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, new enterprise development, community-supported agriculture, cooperatives, marketing management, value added
  • Natural Resources/Environment: afforestation, biodiversity, hedges - grass, grass waterways, habitat enhancement, hedgerows, indicators, riparian buffers, riverbank protection, soil stabilization, wetlands, wildlife, hedges - woody
  • Pest Management: allelopathy, biological control, biorational pesticides, botanical pesticides, chemical control, competition, compost extracts, cultural control, disease vectors, economic threshold, eradication, field monitoring/scouting, flame, genetic resistance, integrated pest management, mulches - killed, mulches - living, mating disruption, physical control, mulching - plastic, cultivation, precision herbicide use, row covers (for pests), sanitation, smother crops, soil solarization, trap crops, traps, mulching - vegetative, weather monitoring, weed ecology, weeder geese/poultry
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, permaculture, transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: earthworms, green manures, organic matter, soil analysis, composting, nutrient mineralization, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, urban/rural integration, analysis of personal/family life, social capital, social networks, sustainability measures


    Discussions with four focus groups and interviews with 25 landowners and tenants confirmed the prevailing belief that land rental in Iowa adds a major obstacle to the adoption of sustainable practices. Because of the extremely competitive market for rented land, tenants said they are reluctant even to suggest alternative practices. Other factors included lack of information on profitability of sustainable agriculture, uncertainty due to one-year leasing arrangements, and lack of sufficient technical support for sustainable agriculture from Extension. Following the research stage the project developed two publications to help address these obstacles.


    In 2002, 51 percent of farmland in Iowa was rented, while nationally that figure was approximately 38 percent (USDA, 2002). Given the prominence of rented and leased land in Iowa and the Midwest, it is important to understand the effect the rental relationship may have on the adoption of sustainable practices.

    There is widespread anecdotal evidence that rented land poses special challenges for the adoption of sustainable agriculture in Iowa (and elsewhere in the Midwest). Sustainable techniques of production, including conservation practices and organic methods, require long-term investments in management and sometimes equipment (Gliessman, 1998). The instability of tenure inherent in rental arrangements, communication issues, and conflicting goals for the land, may lead to difficulties in adoption even when one or both parties in the landlord-farmer relationship wishes to implement sustainable techniques (Netting, 1993). However, little research had directly addressed the question of how land rental might affect the adoption of sustainable farming practices. For a more comprehensive review of the existing literature see Carolan et. al., 2004.

    This research project examined the social dynamics between landlords, tenants, and agricultural agency professionals in order to better understand how those dynamics affect the adoption of sustainable agricultural methods on rented land. The project then worked with farmers and Extension staff to develop some tools to help landowners and tenants negotiate rental agreements that accommodate sustainable agriculture.

    Carolan, Michael S., Diane Mayerfeld, Michael M. Bell, and Rick Exner. 2004. “Rented Land: Barriers to Sustainable Agriculture.” Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 59: 70A-75A.

    Gliessman, S. 1998. Agroecology: Ecological processes in sustainable agriculture. Ann Arbor Press, Chelsea, Michigan.

    Netting, R. 1993. Smallholders, Householders: Farm Families and the Ecology of Intensive, Sustainable Agriculture. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California.

    U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). 2002. Census of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service, United States Department of Agriculture. Washington, D.C.

    Project objectives:

    Objective 1. To help key agricultural professionals work with farmers and landowners on the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices on rented land.

    Objective 2. To collect information on the barriers to the adoption of sustainable agriculture on rented land.

    Objective 3. To design training materials and techniques for agricultural professionals on the adoption of sustainable agriculture on rented land.

    Objective 4. To train agricultural professionals in Iowa to work with landowners and producers to assist them in the adoption of sustainable agricultural techniques on rented land.

    Objective 5. To share project results and training materials with professional development coordinators and others across the North Central region.

    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.