If you are looking to start or expand a farm or ranch operation, you can consider a range of options: short- and long-term leases, cooperative ownership or partnerships, ground leases, and leasing-to-own agreements are alternatives to buying land outright.
Thirty-eight percent of land being farmed in the U.S. is leased. Young farmers--those who are 34 and younger--lease 64 percent of the land they farm. For beginning farmers and those looking to expand their operation leasing land offers an affordable option and provides flexibility. The resources below provide information about how to find land to lease and how to negotiate a lease agreement.
- Farmer & Landowner Guides to Leasing Agricultural Land
- New England Farm Leasing Tutorial, Land for Good
- Elements of a Good Farm Lease
- Farm Rental Agreement Checklist, Ohio State University
- Determining Rental Rates on Leased Farmland
- Farm Lease Worksheets
- Sample Farm Leases
- Farmland Access Webinar, AFT & Land for Good
- Farm Leasing: Success for Landlords and Tenants
Nationwide, farmers own more than 625 million acres of farm and ranch land. Ninety percent of this land is farmed by the owners themselves, while the rest is leased to other farmers. Owning farmland provides a secure tenure option, allows you to own the improvements you make, and can serve as collateral to back a loan.
Farm link programs cultivate the next generation of agricultural producers by linking beginning farmers and ranchers with retiring ones and land seekers with landowners. Programs may be administered by state agencies or nonprofit organizations.
Some organizations have farm incubator programs, which typically offer new growers leases on parcels of land, access to equipment and infrastructure, and technical assistance in production, business management and conservation practices.
The New Entry National Incubator Farm Training Initiative (NIFTI) provides resources and technical assistance to organizations providing land-based farmer training programs and maintains a list of farm incubator projects.
Public entities (e.g.,state and local governments and conservation districts) administer farmland protection programs to keep land available for agriculture. These programs are often called purchase of agricultural conservation easement (PACE) programs. In addition, some private land trusts protect agricultural land by acquiring land or agricultural conservation easements (ACEs).
Here are some ways farmland protection partners can help you gain access to land:
- Land protected by PACE programs and land trusts using ACEs tends to be less expensive than comparable unprotected land, which can help reduce the purchase price.
- PACE programs and land trusts may own farmland and lease or sell it to farmers. Staff may also track protected farmland for sale or lease.
- Some PACE programs and land trusts allow beginning farmers to sell an ACE on a farm or ranch under contract and then use the proceeds toward the purchase price.
You can search the Farmland Information Center's Farmland Protection Directory to find a farmland protection partner that works in your area. Use the filters to find entities that lease land to farmers, maintain lists of farmland for sale and/or provide other types of assistance.
- PACE Fact Sheet
- ACE Fact Sheet
- Beginning Farmers' Guide to Conservation Easements
- Farmland Protection Directory
A few mission-driven land trusts and foundations that invest in farmland can help you secure access to land.
State departments of agriculture sometimes provide classifieds online or in their newsletters that include real estate listings. In addition, some states operate state-owned farmland leasing and licensing programs which make publicly-owned agricultural land available to farmers.
- National Association of State Department of Agriculture's Directory
- Connecticut Leasing of State-owned Farmland Program (operated by the state Farmland Preservation Program)
- Massachusetts State-owned Farmland Licensing Program Page
- New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Inventory of State-owned Property for Lease
The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) Transition Incentives Program (TIP) encourages landowners with expiring Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts to sell or lease their land to beginning or socially disadvantaged farmers. The USDA Rural Development (RD) and USDA FSA advertises its inventory property for sale to socially disadvantaged applicants as well as beginning farmers and ranchers before it is available to the general public.
If you are considering farmland for lease or purchase, the resources below can help you assess site conditions and variables best suited to your operation.
- Farm Rental Assessment Checklist, University of Vermont
- Guide to Finding, Assessing and Securing Farmland, New Entry Sustainable Farming Project
- Land Preservation Tutorial, Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission
- Zoning Tutorial for New Farming Enterprises, Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission
Resources highlighting federal and state policies and programs that help improve access to land for farmers and ranchers.
More information about finding farm and ranch land is available from the websites below, as well as a wealth of information about agricultural production and marketing assistance.
- ATTRA, a sustainable agriculture assistance program managed by the National Center for Appropriate Technology
- Farm Answers, a USDA-NIFA beginning farmer and rancher clearinghouse, providing resources to help farmers get started, as well as tools to help more seasoned producers succeed.
- New Farmers, information from USDA about USDA programs for beginning farmers and ranchers
Find out about state and federal loan programs and grant opportunities for beginning farmers.