Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Farms increasingly owned by non-farmers and rented out

U.S. Department of Agriculture map
Farmland is a kind of currency: valuable because of what it can do, and because it's finite. And though rental of farmland isn't increasing -- the number of acres rented has been around 40 percent for the past 40 years, according to the the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- what's changing is the landlord. "The landowner is increasingly not the farmer next door or a landlord intimately involved in the farming operation," Erin McKinstry reports for The Midwest Center of Investigative Reporting. "Instead, many farmers rent from multiple owners who may have little to no connection to farming or the local community and who may own land strictly for investment purposes."

In the Midwest, about 46 percent of the farmland is rented; around 81 percent of those landowners do not farm. Some see that as a good thing, saying it puts more capital into rural communities and makes arable land affordable for farmers who could not outright buy it. "Others see it as one more barrier for farmers trying to access land or expand their operations," McKinstry reports. "They worry that the trend has driven up farmland prices, led to irresponsible conservation practices and drained money from rural economies."

It's difficult to assess trends, since statewide and USDA data can be spotty, but the phenomenon of absentee farm owners appears to be increasing, especially in the most fertile parts of the Midwest. It may continue to increase as more land-owning farmers retire and pass their farms down to their children. Some may not want to farm and rent it out, and some may sell it to investors.

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