Over the last five years of writing as The Farmer’s Daughter I have come across some pretty crazy and outlandish theories about modern agriculture. At this point, I thought I had heard pretty much all of them. However, during a recent interview, I was asked whether renting farmland, as opposed to owning it, creates a situation where a farmer doesn’t care about sustainability and only acts to get the most out of the land.
It was explained to me that people believe farmers have a vested interest in maintaining and preserving their own land, but they have none of the same considerations for rented lands. In other words, because the farmer doesn’t own the land, he doesn’t care about the long-term use of the land. It seems like some twisted version of the tragedy of the commons.
I’ll admit that idea was completely foreign to me. For my family, we only own a small portion of the 2,000 acres that we farm. The majority of our farmland is actually rented from neighboring landowners, retired farmers, or people that no longer want to mow that much land. In fact, this arrangement is largely the norm for cash crop farmers in our area. They own some and rent the rest. I can acknowledge that all farms are different, but in our operation, we treat rented land the same (or better) than our own.
Suggesting otherwise runs contrary to common sense, business sense, and farm sense.
It is incorrect to assume that we do not care about the future of rented farmland. In most cases, we have been renting the same fields for over two decades now. When we purchase new land, it is usually from the landowners we currently have relationships with. We actually do care about the long-term sustainability of the land, because we plan on farming it for the long term.
The same concept applies for those properties that we have recently acquired. As our farm has expanded over the past few years, we have added new farms into our rotation. While we have not been farming them very long, we hope to have them for the foreseeable future. Our goal is not to plant one crop and be done, we want to continue renting that land.
The other part of this accusation that makes little to no sense to me is the human aspect of it. Renting the same land for so long means we have formed relationships with those that we rent from. We see these people at church, at the grocery store, and while getting gas for the car. They are part of our community. They are family friends. We know them as people, not just pieces of land. Ruining the land they own just because we don’t own it would never be an option.
If someone wants to be even more cynical about it, we have to maintain those relationships with the landowners because the market for open land is quite competitive. If we went around poisoning the rented land, we probably wouldn’t have many owners willing to rent it to us again. There are plenty of other farmers able and willing to rent the land.
Our family and our name has a reputation in our community. That reputation has been built up over time and generations. We are not about to ruin it by mistreating or ruining farmland, either our own or that which we rent. Such actions would not make sense for our business or our family.
When I advocate that modern farmers are good stewards of the land, I mean it. It doesn’t matter whether we rent the land or own the land. We want to preserve farmland in good condition so that we can continue to cultivate and grow crops, maintain our families, and continue to farm. Any theory about agriculture that runs contrary to that narrative is simply wrong.
Amanda Zaluckyj blogs under the name The Farmer’s Daughter USA. Her goal is to promote farmers and tackle the misinformation swirling around the U.S. food industry.
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