That probably wouldn’t make much sense, would it? Yet that’s exactly what’s being done with thousands of acres of farmland owned by absentee landowners. Consider this: if a landowner has 160 acres and that parcel of land is worth $7,500 per acre, the landowner has a property investment valued in excess of $1 million!
Absentee landowners and decision making
Yet, with land that’s valued at well over a million dollars– more than that expensive beach house I mentioned — absentee landlords provide very little oversight. Results from a recent survey show that more than 95% of absentee landowners do not participate in tillage or fertilizer decisions. 65% of absentee landowners rely on their farm operator or someone else to make decisions on permanent conservation practices. And with more than 50% of the farmland being rented, those numbers make me crazy. What the heck!
While it’s the operator who does the farming, I think it’s time for more landowners to engage with operators in deciding how to protect their investment.
Protecting your land investment is very much like maintaining and improving your home. With a home, you may decide to improve the home’s worth by building an addition, remodeling a kitchen or installing a second bathroom. You may need to do regular maintenance like painting, gutter repair and replacing windows. Landowners looking to maintain their land will want to control noxious weeds and ensure optimal levels of nutrients, such as potash and phosphates. Landowners focused on growing the value of their land assets may decide to install permanent practices like drainage systems and conservation structures including terraces, ponds and grassed waterways.
Unfortunately, landowners who live away from their land seem to be doing less and less to build land value with conservation practices. Sixty-five percent (65%) of absentee landowners report they leave decisions about conservation up to someone else. Fifty-three percent (53%) of these absentee landlords reported they spent less than a total of $5,000 on conservation practices over the past 10 years. Another 25% said they spend less than $15,000 in that same time. Can you imagine spending less than $15,000, over a 10 year period, for maintaining a million dollar house? I doubt it.
Where from here
For the past 12 years, I have been working to understand the motivation and values of absentee landowners. Trust me, there are no easy answers. I think it is obvious that if we are going to solve our water quality problems, we need to motivate absentee landowners.
The surveys show that a landlord’s most trusted advisor is their farm operator. The surveys further show that a farmers most trusted advisor is the ag retailers. It seems obvious that the ag retailer is a very important link in the equation. Ag retailers are situated in a position to help the farmers and, at the same time, help the landowners. The question is, what motivation does an ag retailer have to promote conservation?
Work on absentee landowner issues. Read below to learn more about the recently announced Great Lakes Protection Fund project.