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Farm newsletters – are they worth the effort?

pdf fileAgDM Newsletter
August 2016

Landlord-tenant relationships are more than a simple exchange of cash for the use of a parcel of property. While that exchange of compensation for access is the root of the relationship, a body of law and customs surround the exchange. Productive capacity, current market conditions and weather make for year-to-year and place-to-place differences.

In stable long-term relationships it’s possible that the only communication necessary between a landlord and tenant is the negotiation of the cash lease rate, transfer of crop and expenses or factors in the calculation of a flexible cash lease. Stability is a characteristic that landowners and tenants are known for, and longevity is a common characteristic of farm leases. The average Iowa leasing relationship is over 11 years for cash leases and over 15 years for crop share leases. Business relationships of that longevity are likely to have more than a once-a-year conversation. Communicating information can impact the longevity of the relationship and the continuity of a leasing arrangement over multiple-generations.

Are newsletters only for new landlord-tenant relationships?

Why would a tenant in a 15-year leasing relationship start providing a newsletter? The primary reason is that the agricultural environment is not stable. Prices increased through the “golden age” of agriculture and have been declining now for several years. Costs of production increased, yet they have not been declining as quickly as grain prices. Weather is not always beneficial, and the impact of weather events on growing crops isn’t always apparent to parties who don’t live in the area the land is located. Agricultural technology has become increasingly more complex and the benefits of adopting new technology are important to share.

If a mature landowner enters into a rental agreement with a younger tenant, then 15 years later the landowner may want to involve others of the agreement (spouses, children, etc.) Sometimes the maturity levels are flipped and it’s the tenant who feels the need to bring others into the relationship. Continuation of the leasing relationship across generations is more likely with solid communications. While verbal communication may be sufficient between the tenant and landowner, written communication can be shared with others.
In the first year of the landlord-tenant relationship it’s possible that assumptions each party entered the lease with are found to be wrong. If those assumptions aren’t addressed, putting off that discussion and hoping for improvement may not correct the issue. It’s possible that the other party isn’t aware of any problems or hopes a problem will be solved by time alone. That approach doesn’t always work.

Do farm newsletters need to be complicated?

Farm newsletters can be quite complicated, but don’t need to be. A web search with the term “farm newsletters” provides several examples and resources to help create one. A person using many of the easy to find online resources and examples could come away thinking farm newsletters were more trouble than they were worth and impractical.

Farm newsletters can also be simple. A farm newsletter for many Iowa farmers is a one-to- one or one-to-few communication. The objective of a farm newsletter for many Iowa farmers may be simple improvement of communication between a farm operator and the landlords with whom they are involved in a long-term business arrangement.

Developing a Farm Newsletter for Landlords was adapted from an earlier document created by Joe Parcell and Bob Wells as a University of Missouri MU Guide. It explores a simple newsletter approach. If the purpose of the newsletter is to garner attention from a new audience, a bold design may be the direction to go. If the purpose is to share information, a simpler approach may be sufficient.

Even a simple newsletter takes effort. With so many tasks to complete on a typical farm, how do I know what to include?

I asked several landowners about the things they’d like to see in a newsletter. I’ve broken the responses into categories that may be useful when thinking about a plan to share information over time. Some of the items are unique to each farm. Others are general enough to be shared in a newsletter that could go to several landowners.

Crop share landowners

  • Bills have chemical names, but those names don’t indicate the weeds they were used to control. If a common herbicide strategy was implemented, the reason for the herbicides chosen could be shared.

Unique to a farm

  • Soil test results
  • Moisture of harvested corn
  • Pictures of growing crops, pastures, and cover crops
  • Crop planting, chemical application, harvesting and other activity dates

General for the area

  • Amount of rainfall per month during growing season
  • Date of first killing frost
  • Storms - although the impact on a particular farm may need to be shared only with that landowner
  • People in the area who are resources for agricultural decisions
  • Environmentally friendly farming practices in use or considered
  • Best time to view the property
  • Zoning changes

General

  • Changes in costs of crop production
  • Current marketing issues
  • Marketing strategies
  • Conditions in the area with regards to access to health care, local foods, and lifestyle

Livestock lease information

  • Report on number of calves born by week, with a few pictures

Personal information

  • Life events: births, marriages, birthdays and anniversaries of family members and employees
  • Church functions
  • 4-H, county fair, and other community activities

If anything in this list surprised you, then I encourage you to ask your landowner what they’d like to hear about in a newsletter. It’s possible that in addition to the topics you think of as important to share, they have something they’d like to know that will improve your relationship.

As the article states, don’t try to do everything at once. Develop a plan for what you’re going to share over time. The newsletter shouldn’t replace the communication you already have with your landowner, it should add to it. Perhaps you share something to trigger a conversation. Perhaps you share something to make them aware of a resource they tend to ask you about frequently.

It can be difficult to find additional land near enough to your base of operations to be practical. If the newsletter can help you to keep land or gain additional land, then it’s worth considering. A newsletter may or may not fit into your operation’s communication strategy. If verbal communications aren’t an area of strength, you may want to try a farm newsletter. If written communications are an area of strength, you may wonder why you don’t already have a farm newsletter.

For more information on farm newsletters, including suggested topics and examples (example 1; example 2), see Information File C2-14, Developing a Farm Newsletter for Landlords.

 

Tim Eggers, extension field economist, 712-542-5171, teggers@iastate.edu