Land these days doesn’t come cheap. As costs continue to escalate, many young growers getting their start in agriculture are having to face the stark reality of acquiring land in a highly competitive real estate environment.
Luckily, there are resources available to beginning growers to make the purchasing process a little easier. For example, Holly Rippon-Butler, Land Access Campaign Manager at the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC), has made it her mission to help growers navigate the agricultural real estate maze by connecting them with land trust partnerships that can facilitate the buying process.
Working With Land Trusts: What Are They?
Land trusts are non-profit organizations often started by community members, which are dedicated to protecting natural resources, according to NYFC’s website. Agricultural land trusts are focused on keeping farmland free from development and available for agricultural use.
Land trusts typically protect agricultural land by purchasing the property in full and leasing it to a farmer or managing it, or by holding a conservation easement on the land. Conservation easements are legally binding documents in which a landowner sells or donates a portion of his or her property rights to the land trust, extinguishing those rights.
Although NYFC is connected to other resources to help growers secure farmland, land trusts are the coalition’s primary focus, according to Rippon-Butler.
“We have chosen to focus on land trusts because we believe that it is critically important for farmers to own the land they’re farming on or have the ability to build equity on that land if they want to grow and maintain a viable farm business,” she explains.
Are Land Trusts A Good Fit For You?
To determine whether working with a land trust is right for your business, Rippon-Butler suggests evaluating a series of criteria.
The first step in this process is to make sure there is a land trust available in your area. By conducting a search on sites such as Findalandtrust.org, you can narrow down the results in your area and begin researching which land trusts might be a good fit.
So what should you look for in a land trust?
“First, take a look at the land trust’s website and read its mission statement,” Rippon-Butler says. “If it says in the mission statement that they’re only concerned with wildlife conservation, or maybe very narrowly focused on a geographic area, they might not be thinking about conserving farmland and keeping working farms on that land.”
Furthermore, not all land trusts may have the capital to work with every grower’s needs, so it’s important to have a conversation with the trust to assess whether or not they can serve you at your current scale.
Understanding that a land trust is a binding legal document is critical, Rippon-Butler says.
“Make sure you’ve partnered with a lawyer at some point, and make sure you’re being looked out for within the legal document.”
For more detailed information on the benefits of agricultural land trusts and conservation easements, refer to NYFC’s “Finding Farmland: A Farmer’s Guide To Working With Land Trusts.”