The University of Vermont (UVM) Extension’s New Farmer Project recently launched the Vermont Agriculture Land Access Database to help connect farmers seeking land and business opportunities with land and farm owners with available resources. The database was created to provide a means for new, expanding or relocating farmers to search for land or farms for lease or sale at agricultural or fair market value, partnerships, farm transition arrangements, work exchanges and farm employment opportunities throughout and within 50 miles of Vermont.
Established farmers interested in providing access to land or transitioning their operations can list their information in the database. So can landowners not currently farming who wish to develop tenure arrangements such as lease-to-own, farm management or owner-financed farm sales.
The database may be accessed at www.uvm.edu/newfarmer. Click on “Land Access Database” under “Quick Links.” Farm seekers may search the database or submit information about their specific requirements for land, jobs or business arrangements. Farm and landowners are encouraged to publicize available land and other resources and opportunities.
Depending on how the landowner chooses to list the information, individuals may contact the owner directly or work with UVM Extension land access specialists to learn more. In addition, these Extension consultants are available to help farmers assess their needs and explore various types of farm tenure arrangements. They also serve as a third-party facilitator for negotiations between incoming farmers and landowners. For more information, contact Ben Waterman at or .
There is no single clearinghouse for this information, and there are likely many more landowners seeking farmers than there are farmers seeking land to lease. A good starting place is to get really clear about what you’re offering. Describe in writing:
- Your land – size, location, type of soil, flat or hilly, a brief description of its recent history
- The infrastructure that would be included – any fences or irrigation in place? house or farm buildings?
- How long you are willing to lease it, and for what amount (ask your local Cooperative Extension about the going rate per acre for leasing farmland)
- An specific expectations or limitations you would place on the farmer – consider how you feel about public events, chemicals and management practices, appearance, livestock, etc. If you have strong feelings about any of these, include them in your description.
Several organizations in the Northeast have an interest in connecting farmers with land in their area, but most do it informally. Once you have a clear description of what you’re offering, try searching our service provider map for groups who work on land access issues. Contact them with a request to share your opportunity.
While it’s still tricky to negotiate, more and more farmers are finding that you don’t need to own land in order to farm. Owning farmland can be expensive and can make it much more difficult to develop a profitable enterprise. Leasing is one of many options. As the Greenhorns say in their Guide to Farming, in the search for land to farm, “charm, persistence and determination are your best allies.”
Consider the following examples of successful operations established by out-of-the-box thinkers:
- In his book No-Risk Ranching (available from many libraries and most book retailers) farmer Greg Judy describes how he turned his farm around by developing a profitable business model based on raising beef cattle he doesn’t own on land he doesn’t own. He also offers details and advice on approaching landowners and establishing successful leases.
- Do you live in a city where land is scarce and expensive? Consider Rooftop Farms in Brooklyn, or the SPIN-farming model.
- Incubator farms provide inexpensive land access in a central place, and often access to equipment and mentorship to help new farmers get started. The most well-known is the Intervale in Burlington, VT, but more are springing up around the Northeast. Check out the SEED Farm in PA and the Community Farm of Simsbury in CT.
- You might be surprised to find out how many landowners would like to see their land be more productive, but don’t have a desire to farm it themselves. As a bonus, most states offer a reduction in property taxes on land that is in agricultural production, so once you learn the details in your state, you can use this as an incentive with landowners. Here’s one approach: 1) Find several pieces of land meeting your requirements for size, location, and soil type, 2) Go to your county Tax Assessors office to determine who owns them, 3) Send them a very polite letter expressing your interest in farming and inquiring about their willingness to lease their land, and 4) Follow up with a phone call a week or two later, to get their response. Many farmers have found land to buy OR lease using this method.
Great care should be taken when establishing a lease, as there are many issues to address in writing between landowner and farmer, such as lease tenure, infrastructure development, and permitted uses.
For personalized assistance, Land for Good is an organization devoted to keeping Northeast farmland productive. They offer farm transfer planning and can assist with development of strong leases.The New England Small Farm Institute published Holding Ground: A Northeast Guide to Farmland Tenure and Stewardship, a book containing lease language, case studies, worksheets, and non-ownership tenure options.
Another nice publication on creative options for finding land from ATTRA (Appropriate Technology Transfer to Rural Areas) is available online here.
If you would like to learn more about evaluating your land’s potential for farm production, start with the Evaluating Land, Environment and Facilities tutorial at left and navigate through the chapters on climate, soil, and infrastructure.
Most Northeast states offer land-linking services. Most of these programs try to link retiring or exiting farmers with individuals interested in getting started in farming. They also offer counseling to guide the process, whether the farm is going to be sold from one party to another, leased, operated as a partnership, or organized as a management opportunity for the new farmer to gain experience and equity.
- NY FarmLink
- Pennsylvania FarmLink
- LandLink Vermont
- Maine FarmLink
- New England LandLink
- New Jersey FarmLink
- Connecticut FarmLink
- Land for Good
Other Local Organizations
Several non-profits listed on our Who Can Help map provide informal land-linking services. Contact organizations near you to find out if they can help you.
Agricultural Educators in county extension offices may also be able to direct you to local opportunities for land access. Locate your county’s office and contact them to describe your land needs. If you’re in NY, find the Small/Beginning Farmer contact in your local Extension office here.