By Peggy Kirk Hall, director of agricultural law, Ohio State University Agricultural and Resource Law Program
Christmas is a good time to make wishes for the peace and well-being of others. One of our top wishes this year does that: we hope for all farmers in Ohio to have written farmland leases. It’s an odd wish, we know. But putting leases in writing can help landowners and farm tenants live in peace, and we like that.
Farm leases have always been prone to being verbal agreements, sealed with a handshake. Simplicity and trust are two plausible reasons we’ve done business that way. But a written farm lease can be simple, and using one doesn’t have to mean that the parties don’t trust each another. Instead, a lease can keep distrust from arising between the parties by anticipating needs and foreclosing uncertainties and disagreements.
One of the strongest disagreements we hear about verbal farm leases is whether one party can terminate the lease without giving the other much notice of that termination. For example, if Riley has rented land from Dale every year for the past 10 years, can Dale terminate the lease for the 2020 planting season in February of 2020? What if Riley has already purchased inputs, added nutrients, or planted a cover crop? Or perhaps Dale passes away at the end of the year. Will Riley lose the lease if Dale’s children sell the land before planting season begins? These are the uncertainties that can lead to fighting, distrust, and sometimes, costly and difficult litigation.
A written farmland lease can prevent these uncertainties that can arise with verbal leases. A written lease can state how much notice is required in order for one party to terminate the lease. It can address other potentially problematic issues, such as who repairs drainage tiles, fences and access points, how to address new subsurface drainage and soil fertility needs, and whether and how to adjust annual lease rental rates. When an issue or question about the arrangement develops, the written farm lease can provide the already agreed-upon answer or solution.
When it comes to the peace and well-being of farmers, written farmland leases are a good thing to wish for. So let’s keep the Grinch of uncertainty from showing up in 2020, and put those farmland leases in writing. For our resources on what to include in a written farm lease, how to create an enforceable lease, and other farm lease needs, please visit https://farmoffice.osu.edu/our-library/farm-leasing-law.