Communications Critical in Leases
by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent
One of the most important elements, if not the most important, of an agricultural lease, is good communications between the landlord and tenant. Unfortunately it is usually the most overlooked and ignored element. Let's face it, most of us don't really like confrontation. Emotions run high and we start to evaluate the whole thing on who won and who lost. In discussions about leases, there will inevitably be some subjects come up that create some disagreement and then you have confrontation. So the less that's talked about, the less chance there is for confrontation. But then both parties leave the discussion feeling like there are unresolved issues.
The next thing I know, I have a landlord sitting in my office all upset because their tenant planted everything no-till this year, and he hates no-till farming. It just looks ugly! One of the first questions I ask then is if they ever told the tenant that they don't like no-till farming. The answer is an emphatic, "No!" Probably because that might lead to a confrontation. So rather than bring it up to the tenant and find resolution, the landlord may simply terminate the lease the following year and get anew tenant. Sadly, if the landlord and tenant had discussed this issue, they could probably find a resolution that would be satisfactory to both parties.
There's currently a court case in the southern Flint Hills region, I won't say whether it's in Kansas or Oklahoma, where a tenant asked a landlord if it was okay to burn the pasture. The landlord said yes, and the tenant burned the pasture. The landlord then sued the tenant because in the course of the pasture burning, several hundred acres of cedar trees went up in smoke. The landlord didn't mind the pasture being burned, as long as his cedar trees, which he wanted for wildlife cover, weren't burned. The tenant assumed that the landlord knew that the main reason we burn pastures is to control cedar trees. It'll be interesting to see how that one turns out, but again there wasn't enough communication occurring!
Many of our agricultural leases are oral leases. With nothing to refer back to but their memories, sometimes the simpler the terms the better for both parties. But that leaves so many unasked and unanswered questions. Both the landlord and the tenant need to come to their meeting with a list of questions or points that need to be clarified. In all honesty , many of those points are going to be easy to come to terms with because they both probably feel the same way. Then the tougher points can be talked about, or you can sit down with a third party and try to find resolution.
As farming continues to change, ag leases will become more complex and I would encourage serious consideration of written leases. Written leases actually provide more flexibility and provide more protection for both parties. And with a written lease many of these complex issues can be spelled out in black and white so everyone knows.
Things that need to be talked about in crop leases today include: GMO crops, Roundup Ready technology and who pays for what herbicides, hunting rights, developmental rights, no or reduced tillage farming and who is going to pay for what production costs. In pasture leases discussions need to include noxious weed and brush control, fence maintenance, what happens if the pond goes dry , stocking rates under good conditions and droughty conditions, when cattle go in and come out and who's going to burn and how often is the burn going to happen. A landlord tenant relationship is a partnership. And if the partner's aren't talking, the partnership will soon be spoken of in the past tense.
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