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Are you a beginning farmer looking for land, or a landowner hoping to lease land? Creating a farm lease can be intimidating. That’s why the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School developed a free online Farm Lease Builder to ease the process. It walks participants step-by-step through a series of questions, resulting in a draft lease ready to print for legal review. Learn more at farmleasebuilder.org.
In the United States, about 40% of land is considered farmland, and 40% of this land is leased. Agricultural lease agreements are essential to farming, especially for new farmers who may not have the financial resources to own farmland or to access legal services needed to create a lease. In addition to protecting legal rights, leases can provide long-term stability to foster land improvement for agricultural purposes, including sustainable farming practices.
The Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS) at Vermont Law School has launched a free Farm Lease Builder as part of their Farmland Access Legal Toolkit. The Farm Lease Builder creates a free customized lease draft for farmers based on their specific needs, significantly reducing the cost of legal services.
“Land access is currently one of the biggest hurdles for new farmers in the United States,” says Laurie Beyranevand, CAFS Director. “The Farmland Access Legal Toolkit assists new as well as retiring farmers through a suite of resources that offers innovative models of ownership, leasing, and estate planning that have worked for other farmers in similar situations. We’re excited to add the Farm Lease Builder to the Toolkit.”
"This tool provides a comprehensive process for helping farmers and landowners think through how they'd like to handle issues that commonly arise in a farm lease situation,” explains Amanda Heyman, CAFS project partner and consultant. “Having thought through these issues in advance and having come to a common understanding, the parties to the agreement are much more likely to have a successful business relationship. Also, it helps to have something in black and white to refer back to a few years into the lease, when it's hard to remember exactly what was agreed upon, and to help resolve disputes.”
“The Farm Lease Builder makes time with an attorney more efficient and less expensive, since lawyers often charge by the hour,” says Emily Spiegel, CAFS Assistant Professor. “Of course, this tool cannot replace personalized legal advice from an attorney, but it walks farmers through the decision-making process and creates a draft lease in a Word document that their lawyer can review and easily edit if needed.” Free to use, the Farm Lease Builder is available online at farmleasebuilder.org.
The Farm Lease Builder guides you through important common issues in farmland leases and helps you create a roadmap for your landlord/tenant relationship. Thinking things through ahead of time and getting them down on paper protects your time, money, and emotional investment in your farmland. The Farm Lease Builder creates a lease draft that is customized to your needs. The draft lease is created in an easy-to-edit Word document. And if you don't finish the draft lease in one sitting, you can save your work and easily come back to complete it.
Essentially, there are four steps in this process. Access to a computer and the internet will be required because the questionnaire is only online. However, partnering with someone to walk you through the process, if you don’t regularly use a computer or the internet, is a great strategy.
Step 1: The Lease Builder tool involves a series of questions answered via a website. The exercise takes 30-90 minutes in total, and it’s best to come prepared with the following in order to answer the questions:
• Landlord and tenant information, including names and address
• Property information, including address, acreage to be leased, and legal description
• Any additional property to be leased in addition to land (houses, buildings)
• The length of the lease, including the start and end date
• The rent to be paid and at what frequency
• Information regarding how maintenance and repairs will be handled
• A list of activities the farmer will be allowed to engage in on the land (i.e. retail operations, on-farm events, CSAs, etc.) and any that are not permissible
• Any restrictions or requirements for how the land will be farmed, including conservation plans or easements, organic certification, chemical use, etc.
• Statement of who will be responsible for payment of utilities
• Any insurance requirements
Step 2: Based on the questionnaire answers, a draft lease will be created for you.
Step 3: Then you can discuss and finalize the draft lease with your lawyer and the other party.
Step 4: Sign the lease and start farming!
There is much more information online and you are encouraged to visit the website, https://farmlandaccess.org/farm-lease-builder/ to learn more and to get started. If you have a questions, visit https://farmlandaccess.org/contact/.