Has anyone ever leased land for gardening?

Belgianpup(Wa/Zone 7b)March 21, 2012

A woman I know is considering this, since her property is quite small. She is thinking about an acre or two with a multi-year lease for growing annual food plants. Although she's read about it, she doesn't know anyone who has actually done it.

How would you approach the landowner?

I'm assuming that the agreement would be in writing, as weasely as some people can be these days. What kind of financial arrangement? Would the landowner get part of the crop?

What about water? Insurance? Fencing?

Other issues?


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We are landowners who "lease" land to a neighbor farmer who needs more land for hay and field corn. This is very common in our area of New England. We have a hand shake agreement. The farmer gets all the produce from the land and is responsible for all fertilizing etc. In return, our land is in good use. The corn field is popular with deer and wild turkeys providing us with a nice view.

I believe the former farmer leased the land for $100 a year from the former owner. This was a token amount. The corn field on a slope was having serious erosion problems. A second field required travel over a culvert which was breaking down. When my husband told the former farmer it would be necessary for him to replace the culver, the farmer balked and said it was too expensive, etc. Since his equipment was the only equipment traveling over this culvert with the exception of an occasional passenger vehicle, it was his fault the culvert needed to be replaced. My husband decided it was time to end the relationship and gave the farmer notice that it was his last year.
After 2 or 3 years, my husband was approached by another farmer to use this land with the agreement that the farmer would be fully responsible for restoring the fields to proper condition and to restore another field that had been fallow for decades. The farmer is also a professional logger and had the crew and equipment to remove trees and bushes that had encroached on the fields. This was an enormous amount of work but also generated some good pine lumber and chips. It was agreed that the farmer deserved to keep and re-sell the lumber and chips since he and his crew had done all the work. Keep in mind that if the farmer isn't taking care of the acreage, the landowner has to. (i.e. brush hogging, field mowing)

If handshake agreements weren't customary in our area, I would fully advise a written agreement that defined the responsibility for soil fertility and general maintenance of the property. It should also specify what kind of pesticides are allowed and, yes, who gets the fruits and vegetables. Attention should be given to who is allowed to pick. My sweet young granddaughter does damage to sugar snap pea vines when she picks pea pods to snack on. If the landowner has pets, this should also be considered. A friend's dog tore down his sweet corn, not raccoons. A family pet might be a serious nuisance.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2012 at 7:54AM
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I have been renting an acre from a public land conservation agency for many years. Only this year have I finally decide to put the money into deer fencing the whole piece. It's a big, big job. 330-foot rolls of 8-foot wire are heavy so you have to gather a number of people to put it up.

After working a small part of the piece by hand all this time I also finally sprung for a BCS 11 HP two-wheel tractor with the tiller and a rotary plow. I also had the field plowed and I have to get the guy back to flatten it otherwise it will take weeks to do with the small machine. Now after mobilizing all this capital it's all pointless without some serious inputs of organic NPK for fertility to counteract the effects of droughty soil (light soil + rainfall = frequent drought conditions). Fertility is the primary drought hedge, if one doesn't have time to build it up gradually then one has to buy it or suffer the consequence (negligible production and wasted time and money). So it's going to be a 1/2 ton tote of dried chicken manure and some stone dust here and there.

Long story short, it's a good thing that the nominal rent is $10 per year, because if I had to pay any real price for the use of the land I wouldn't. It isn't rational even with the land effectively free. The exception would be if it were ideal growing land: flat and with a high native CEC. If it were already fenced and had access to water then it would be worth some money, otherwise not, though it might be worth fencing it in exchange for some years of use.

So that's my two cents: the primary consideration is the quality of the land, if it is quite good lack of irrigation can be dealt with via appropriate crop choices and timing. If the quality is so-so then other considerations might swing it, like is it fenced and is it very close to home. if it is very droughty or sloped then forget it.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2012 at 7:58AM
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RabbitRabbit(9 CA)

On the lower end of the scale, I've also leased a plot from the city's community gardens. Although it's nowhere as big as an acre, it's a nice way to give it a try without investing as heavily as in the posts above. I live in an urban area and it was a good lesson to me that I didn't necessarily want to travel to my allotment to garden at the end of the day, even though it really wasn't that faraway (within walking distance)!

In addition, not being onsite meant that I missed out on many frequent pests which I would have taken care of had it been in my garden. In the end, I gave my plot up because it was too much hassle for my schedule at the time, but I'm glad I did it for the experience.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2012 at 1:00PM
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I use about 1400 square foot plot that is on my neighbor's land but closer to my house than to his. I use it because my own garden needed a break from potatoes, and he was trying to grow melons in the plot but never got any because he couldn't keep up with taking care of it because it was a ways from his house. So I asked if I could use part of the plot if I grew melons for him. He happily agreed (nothing in writing -- that would just be weird in West Virginia).

Last year I used 3/4 of it for our potatoes and 1/4 of it for watermelons, cantaloupes, musk melons, and pumpkins for him (though the pumpkins failed) He seemed happy (He actually had it plowed for me, but then didn't do anything more.). I haven't asked him yet this year -- figured I'd ask when it's time to plant.

Long story short -- the arrangement is loose and spur of the moment (suits the country mode of being) and the "payment" is in a crop that he wants. If I use it again this year, I'll offer to grow what ever he wants in the part I work for him.

He actually offered to fence it, but I said that the deer didn't seem to ever bother potatoes or melons, and not to bother. If also figured that if he fenced it, I would owe him more in work and success, and I didn't want to have that pressure.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2012 at 2:09PM
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gardenman101(Z6 Spingfield, Ma)

Do you have water access to that peice of property that you are renting? If not how do you deal with watering it? I wish there was a place near me where I could rent an acre for $10 a year...lol. Have you ever posted pics of your endeavor?

    Bookmark   March 21, 2012 at 3:49PM
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Grdnman, yes here is a pic from last year:

I have been letting a lot of self-sowing stuff go there, some of which you can see in the photo, parsnips, mustards, walking onion, garlic. You can see some dent corn, which didn't make much there. I have had dent corn make on just rain (and a little wood-ash and urine) in other years. In the past I have made virtually no serious fertilizer inputs so heavy feeders like potatoes and squash make very little typically. Legumes tend to be the reliable producer in rainfall systems, especially pole beans. Hopefully in the future I can raise the fertility of the soil system to the point where the three sisters becomes effective. Squash is the finicky part of that triad.

Now that I have opened all the ground by plow (excepting the little built-up area which the above photo is part of) droughtiness is going to be a big problem until I can get well-established covers and adequate soil life. However I had to make a major intrusion to deal with the heavy sod of grass that makes attempts at cultivation otherwise nearly impossible. As calcium is gradually added and other fertility amendments over some years grass weeds can be largely eliminated and the soil system becomes much more favorable to crops. With careful timing in average rainfall years production is reasonable.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2012 at 8:26PM
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Leasing land has is a big business especially in the commercial world. You will need a lease just like if you were to rent any other sort of thing.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lease Agreement

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 11:38AM
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