Professional Development for the Adoption of Sustainable Agriculture on Rented Land

2002 Annual Report for LNC00-180

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

Professional Development for the Adoption of Sustainable Agriculture on Rented Land


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 cited 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. Currently, the project is focusing on developing some tools to address these obstacles, including sample crop-share leases for organic operations.

Objectives/Performance Targets

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.


Four focus group meetings—-one involving tenants, one involving landlords, and two involving agriculture professionals-—were held to collect information on the effect of land rental on sustainable agriculture adoption in Iowa. Information from these focus meetings was used to develop questions for 25 one-on-one interviews with landowners and tenants in one county. A report on the findings from this research was submitted with last year’s annual report. Additional copies may be requested from Diane Mayerfeld at

Work on the professional development part of the project started with a discussion with both landowners and tenants at the Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) Annual Winter Conference. Much of the discussion centered around the concern that the common crop-share arrangement of a 50-50 split of the crop between landowner and tenant does not fairly reflect tenant contributions in either sustainable or organic operations.

In August, a panel of landowners and tenants who are implementing sustainable practices on their rental land was a central feature in a PFI field day. The panelists discussed the diverse ways they accommodated sustainable practices, ranging from adding hay to the crop rotation to having the rented land organically certified.

The following Extension materials are under development:
– sample budgets for crop share leases in organic agriculture
– an Extension bulletin on considerations and options for landowners and tenants thinking about sustainable practices on their rented land
– a spreadsheet program to help landowners and tenants come to a fair allocation of costs and returns in crop share lease arrangements involving sustainable practices

In October 2002, members of the project team presented our findings to date to ISU Extension Farm Management Specialists at their in-service training. The specialists expressed interest in the project and their willingness to integrate materials on sustainable agriculture designed for landowners in their contacts with landowners.

An article describing different arrangements to accommodate sustainable practices on rented land was published in PFI’s Fall 2002 quarterly newsletter.

A poster on the project findings to date was presented at the National Small Farm Conference in September 2002. The poster was also displayed at the January 2003 PFI Winter Conference.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

It is still too early to assess the outcomes from this project; however there are some preliminary indications that the project will make a difference.

As mentioned above, ISU’s farm management specialists expressed interest in and support for the project. Positive feedback and actions that have resulted from the project include:
– One Extension Farm Management Field Specialist has discussed applying for a state program mini-grant to research Midwestern farm leasing materials for information that may relate to adoption of sustainable agriculture.
– One of the landowners involved in the PFI field day panel discussion described above has indicated she plans to use information from that discussion in future negotiations with her tenant.
– And at least one landowner couple who attended the August, 2002 Field Day has re-negotiated the crop share lease with their tenant to more fairly reflect the additional contributions made by the operator in their organic farming system.