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#1 Finding a Farm to Buy or Lease

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Leasing Land and Buildings for Farming

The cost of buying land and paying a mortgage can add to the cost of starting a farming operation.  Leasing may be an option for enterprises that require less infrastructure or where the investment in infrastructure — such as irrigation pipes, a greenhouse, or fencing — is portable.  If infrastructure involves improvements that are not easily removed, like digging a pond or constructing buildings, then it may not be wise to invest on land you do not own, unless the owner pays for these improvements. If the property that you want to lease has buildings suitable to your enterprise, then a rental agreement might also include use of buildings.

Finding good farmland to lease may be as challenging as finding good farmland to purchase. You may find that people will respond to ads placed in small community papers, farm papers or in county Extension or Soil and Water District newsletters. Contacting owners of a desirable property by personal letter and/or phone call can be effective too. Also, check with area realtors and farmers. Once you find some possible properties to lease, consider the soil type, drainage, if there is a water supply, and what it will take to bring the land into production. It is important to find a site that matches the production requirements of the enterprise you want to develop.

Written Leases

A written lease or agreement is a good idea whether you are paying rent, working on shares or permitted to use the land free of charge. A lease will specify the terms under which the renter and the owner will operate. The main goal of a lease is to develop a fair agreement understood by both parties. Landowner and tenant needs and goals should be identified.

A well-written lease should include:

  1. Description of the land and buildings to be rented, and equipment if applicable. An accurate assessment of the conditions at time of rental is a good idea, including photos to document such.
  2. Rights of each party: owner and tenant access and use. Spell out any restrictions.
  3. Improvements that will be made and who pays for these. If buildings are involved, specify who pays for improvements like roofing, painting, etc. that are normal infrastructure, versus improvements made specific to the farm enterprise.
  4. Agricultural practices to follow – outline organic or agronomically sound practices to be used, specify that fields be planted to a cover crop after use, list prohibited practices
  5. Condition of land at end of lease – common practice calls for land to be left in the same condition as when first rented. However, land that was not been farmed for some years prior to the lease may actually be left in better condition.  In this case consideration should be given to the cost of those improvements.
  6. Payment terms under normal growing conditions and in the event of a crop failure. Payments should be based on the value of the property for farming purposes only (not for development).
  7. Lease payment: leases can be paid in cash, in crop or livestock shares, or in some cases, landowners are willing to forgo fees if the tenant makes improvements.
  8. Bringing land back into production – if land has not been actively farmed in many years, the cost of bringing land back into farming is considerable. Consideration needs to be given as to who should pay for these costs.  The owner benefits in the long run from improvements that are made.
  9. Length of the agreement and terms of renewal. A one-year renewable lease might be a good starting point for annual crops, or if planting perennial crops, a 3-5 year lease is preferable.
  10. Early termination if initiated either by the owner or tenant and the consequences.
  11. Insurance paid by owner (for land, buildings, equipment) and paid by tenant (for crops/livestock and production related improvements made by tenant).
  12. Taxes are the responsibility of the owner.
  13. Provisions for arbitration in the case of disagreements.

Determining Cash Rent

There are several approaches that can be taken when establishing a fair rental rate.  These include:  1) the demand for land and going rate in a particular area; 2) the cost and return associated with a crop allowing for an acceptable profit and rental payment; 3) what the landowner needs to cover with regard to fixed costs or taxes. Generally a combination of these approaches may be needed to arrive at a fair rate.

Determining Share Rent

A shared rental agreement assumes that the landowner and tenant account for what each contributes to the production of a crop or livestock including fixed and variable costs; then calculate the percentage contributed by each party.  This percentage can be used in setting return (crop or harvest returns) received by owner and tenant.  Flexibility is needed in case of low harvest or prices. Owners may have to relinquish some shares if the tenant is dependent on sales for their livelihood.

Renting Farm Buildings

A key factor influencing building rental is whether the owner needs to obtain a minimum rent to cover fixed costs or not.  Variable costs such as utilities can be assigned proportionate to use by the tenant. A key consideration for tenants is whether additional insurance is needed to cover losses of stored crops, livestock or equipment.

Sample Lease Agreement

A simple lease follows as a starting point. Consult an attorney if a more detailed lease is desired.

This lease is entered in this ____day of______________between___________________, landlord, and ______________________________, tenant.  The landlord leases to the tenant to use for agricultural purposes_________acres of pasture and _______acres of cropland, and the following building: (list or attach a list) located in the Town of ____________ and County of____________ and commonly known as __________Farm.

The tenant will pay the landlord $________per year (or other specified time period) with payment to be made as follows:_______________________________.  The tenant will also pay all the costs of planting, growing and harvesting crops grown on the land.  The tenant will be required to maintain and repair fences, tile drains, and diversion ditches, and make ordinary repairs to maintain buildings and equipment used, and pay for utilities such as electricity and water (if relevant) during the period of the lease.

The landlord will pay the taxes, fire insurance on buildings, major repairs or improvements, such as new fence, ponds, drain tiles, diversion ditches, etc.

The tenant will follow recommended conservation and agronomic practices in working the land.  No green or growing timber may be harvested from the property by the tenant. The landlord has the right to inspect or enter the property at any time.

This lease shall be for ___years beginning (date)_____________________with automatic renewal for (how long):________(years) unless either party gives written notice to the contrary at least 3 months (90 days) before the expiration of the current rental period.  The rental rate may be adjusted annually to account for increases in taxes, insurance or other costs of ownership.

Any meadow land plowed for annual crops will be re-seeded to a perennial forage crop at the end of the lease period (unless the lease has been automatically renewed).

Any differences between the landlord and tenants as to their rights and obligations under this lease that are not settled by mutual agreement shall be submitted to an arbitrator or other such person who has authority to make a final decision.

It is agreed that the stipulations of this lease are to apply to and bind the heirs, executors, administrators, and assigns of the respective parties and is made and executed in duplicate.

In witness whereof the parties have signed this lease on this date of________________.



Materials adapted from:  Pennsylvania Farm Link worksheet (out of print) and from Richard Eschler, former Cornell Farm Business Management Educator.


Web Resources:  Sample Lease Agreements
Type of Lease Download Online
Simple Farm Lease


Note: You must pay a fee to get a copy.

Short Term Lease


Note: Requires email address.

Multi Year Lease



Note: Requires email address.

Long Term Lease on Public Land


Note: Requires email address.

Additional lease and land tenure resources on the Land For Good Website:


Helpful Contacts for Finding a Farm
Organization Description Contact
NOFA-NY The Property for Rent/Sale listings are standard classified ads and are shorter in length and are not filtered by their details. Land Offered and Land Sought listings are more in-depth forms and listings for NOFA-NY’s land linking database.
Finger Lakes LandLink A project of Cornell Cooperative Extension Tompkins County and Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming.
Catskills FarmLink A project of the Watershed Agricultural Council, Catskills FarmLink maintains the regional working agricultural landscape by connecting farmers with underutilized land.
Farmer Landowner Match Program The Columbia Land Conservancy established this program in 2008, and since that time it has grown to include more than 200 active participants. The program serves Columbia and Dutchess Counties in NY.
Farmland Match Westchester Land Trust’s Farmland Match program connects Westchester farmers who need land with property owners who have land to lease.
Land for Good A service for farmers, landowners, and farm-seekers in New England, this group provides trainings, tools and counseling to keep land in agricultural production.
New England LandLink NELL is a program to help farmers and landholders locate and transfer farms in New England. NELL will also advise on land lease and transfer options.
LandLink Programs Across the Country A compiled list by CFRA
Cornell Cooperative Extension Agricultural Educators The Beginning Farmer contact in your county extension office may also be able to direct you to farms for sale or farm realtors.
Grassroots: The Voice of New York Farm Bureau Farm Newspaper with Listings of Farm Properties for Sale


Country Folks: Lee Publications Farm Newspaper with Listings of Farm Properties for Sale


Come Homestead With Us: Rural Living in St. Lawrence County, NY Learn more about St. Lawrence County in New York’s North Country as a possible location for your small farm or local food venture. Includes links to small farm organizations, groups, and support services, including realtors’ multi-listing service.


Farm Real Estate Brokers*

While conventional real estate brokers list farms for sale, most active farms are considered commercial property and are listed by real estate agents specializing in farm transactions. The list below does not imply endorsement of any of the following businesses:

Helpful Contacts for Finding a Farm
Organization Description Contact
MLS Residential Search The largest multiple listing service for residential real estate. Often contains small and medium farms.
Farm Credit Agricultural lender with an appraisal services; they would know of farms for sale
Farm Service Agency Real Estate for Sale Listing of homes and farms for sale by the Farm Service Agency, many available with low interest financing


LandAndFarm Rural property listing service
United County Real Estate Rural real estate brokerage
Come Farm with Us Farm real estate listings in Jefferson County, NY
Farm & Country Realty Rural New York State property listings and brokerage

*This listing of realtors is not intended to be complete, and listing does not imply endorsement by Cornell Cooperative Extension. Check with folks located in the area near where you hope to farm to find realtors who specialize in farm property.

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11 thoughts on “#1 Finding a Farm to Buy or Lease

  1. Ashley Turns says:

    Thanks for letting us know that a great lease will be sure to include things like payment terms and the length of the agreement. My husband and I have decided to buy some farm land to escape city life, and we are wondering what we should be looking for in our contract. We will definitely have to make sure that the lease we end up signing for our farm land has all of the details of our agreement written down in fine detail.

  2. Arshad Bhutta Pervez says:

    Looking to lease or buy Small farm

  3. Yvonne says:

    Good Day
    I currently have a farm which I would like to sell or lease
    It has a 12 stall barn, indoor riding arena, warehouse, and luxury home.
    Can you advise if there is a place to advertise it at Cornell

  4. klr235 says:

    Hi Yvonne,
    I checked Cornell Real Estate and it appears that the organization does not list outside properties. Good luck selling/leasing your place!

  5. Morris says:

    I would like to know about the farm

  6. klr235 says:

    Hi Morris,

    There are links to see leases listed next to the farm names within the article. Is there any specific farm you would like to know about?

  7. Hazel Owens says:

    Thanks for the tip to start with a one-year renewal lease so you can get annual crops. My cousin wants to move to a farm so she can raise chickens and plant her own food so I’m helping her out. We’ll have to find one with a lease so she can try it out and make sure that she wants to continue and buy one later.

  8. Kelsie Raucher says:

    Hi Hazel,
    We’re glad that you found the tip helpful!

  9. RASAQ says:

    i intend starting a small farm to raise rabbit, chicken and some vegetables, i dont actually need much space for ,if anyone has an information as to where i can get the required space ,i will so much appreciate.

  10. ns749 says:

    Thanks for your response! I would recommend starting with the links in the article under “Helpful Contacts for Finding a Farm” and “Farm Real Estate Brokers.” Feel free to reach out again if you have any more questions.

  11. David Johnson says:

    I thought it was interesting that contacting owners through a letter or phone call can be effective. To me, this would be true because it shows that you will take care of the property and are willing to do what’s needed. Because of this, they’ll be able to tell their farm will be taken care of. I’ll have to look for a farm for sale.

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