Would landowners in your area rent ground to a no-tiller or strip-tiller for fewer dollars than to farmers using other conservation systems or even conventional tillage?

Among 230 farmers answering a recent email survey, 85% believe landowners wouldn’t budge on lowering land rents. Yet 9% of these growers believe conservation-conscious landowners might trim rental costs by $11 or more per acre if their fields were no-tilled or strip-tilled.

Among growers who answered our survey, 90% are no-tilling and 27% are strip-tilling. 

Data from our 9th annual No-Till Operational Benchmark Survey conducted earlier this year shows the average No-Till Farmer readers is cropping 1,153 acres this year. This includes an average of 43% owned ground, 40% cash rented land and 17% of the ground worked on shares. Total land rents last year averaged $59,026 per farm, a 23% decrease from $76,615 in 2015.

Growers were asked in our recent survey whether tillage practices enter into land rental conversations or agreements. Some 32% of growers indicated no-till or strip-till is a major factor when it comes to land rental. Another 25% indicated tillage systems don’t matter, 19% say the topic never comes up and 24% weren’t sure of its importance.

A number of growers maintain many landowners are still more interested in earning extra dollars than saving the soil. They indicate they sometimes deal with elderly landowners who think no-till looks trashy, is a lazy way to farm and often refuse to rent land to no-tillers.

Growers were also asked to gauge landowner interest in conservation practices. Some 63% felt landowners were interested in protecting their land against water, soil and wind erosion, while 37% weren’t sure they even cared.

Cheaper Rents with Less Tillage?

Some 85% of these surveyed farmers felt landowners wouldn’t settle for lower cash rents with no-till. Among the 15% who felt landowners would be willing to take less cash rent for no-tilled fields, here’s the anticipated savings:

  • 3% felt owners would take $1-$5 less per acre.
  • 3% anticipated landlords would drop rental rates by $6-$10 per acre.
  • 5% estimated no-till might lead to an $11- to $15-per-acre reduction. 
  • 2% felt landowners would take $16-$20 less per acre if fields were no-tilled.
  • 2% felt owners might trim no-till rental rates by over $20 per acre.

One grower reported area landlords were trying to increase cash rents to no-tillers since they’re willing to pay more to rent ground. After a landlord recognized no-till would improve the soils, another grower rented ground that had been mismanaged with excessive tillage at a reduced rate over the next 4 years. 

Growers were also asked how they communicate the benefits of no-till and strip-till to landowners. Amazingly, 16% did not bring up no-till or strip-till in these conversations.

Phone calls, emails and letters were commonly used to communicate with landlords by 59% of growers. Some 46% scheduled visits with landlords to help them learn about no-till or strip-till and 22% visited with them at local meetings.

Some 13% of growers used other means to sell landowners on the benefits of no-till and strip-till. This included communicating via Facebook and Twitter, recommending YouTube videos to watch and passing along reports, newsletters and publications that deal with the benefits of no-tilling.

Show Them More Soil Pores, More Earthworms

Other renters invite landowners to field days or encourage farm visits. Several growers set up tillage demonstrations for landlords on their own ground. Others regularly share photos, soil test results and yield map data.

When selling the benefits of cover crops and no-till, one grower takes landlords to fields, pulls up ryegrass plants and shows landlords the huge numbers of earthworms and pores found in healthy no-tilled soils. 

With the growing emphasis on soil health in agriculture, I think we’ll eventually see the day when land values are based on less tillage, nutrient management practices and being good stewards of the land. When that happens, landlords who let their ground be no-tilled or strip-tilled will be pleased with the results.