How do you protect you and your farmland? What about an attorney?
It has been a good couple of weeks exploring the valuable people who every landowner should surround themselves with. A high quality loan officer and someone experienced in secession planning are two of those people. Today we will discuss how a trusted attorney is another professional to add to your management team. I want to introduce to you Cecelia Neihouser Harper and Kyle Mandeville.
Cecelia grew up on a farm in northwest Indiana and is a graduate of Valparaiso School of Law. She has a love of farming and became a lawyer to help guide and provide a service to the agricultural community. Today her focus is to support agribusiness, general real estate and other businesses.
Kyle also grew up on a family farm and has managed farmland for many years. He graduated with a bachelors from Purdue University and then went on to get his law degree from Indiana University. Kyle spends his time helping farmers and landowners on the legal side of estate planning, especially on farm and land transitions. Both Cecelia and Kyle practice at Bennett Boehning and Clary LLP.
What are some reasons landowners need to seek professional help from an attorney?
Kyle: Many landowners, especially out-of-state landowners, don’t always get the full story about their land. Whether it is the value of their land, what is the productivity of their land, or if improvement are being made. The role of the attorney is to just help make sure everyone is on the same page. Many landowners don’t realize they have rights and options, so helping them understand what those are is very important.
Another unfortunate but necessary role we play is being involved with ownership of land, businesses, etc. when multiple family member are involved. This is sometimes the most challenging, but the most rewarding, when helping families work through differences.
Why should a landowner be seeking help from an attorney in farmland lease agreements? Can’t you just find that online?
Cecelia: Landowners should have some clarity when drafting a lease agreement. There are many details that should be include in any lease. The big question is whether or not you are conveying the right things in the agreement. As an attorney, we are trained to look at business relationship from every angle and determine what the worst-case scenarios are. This helps protect our clients from the possibilities even if it is a life-long family member or friend. Determining an exit plan is something every lease agreement needs in order to be complete.
Kyle: Relationships: on the surface, everything can seem rosy and many are solid, but there is always that one that can become complicated. What starts as a long-term verbal agreement can change at any point. Making sure to protect yourself is important. I also recommend a terminate or made whole division; this helps to come up with a payback in the event the lease is broken. This would be good for both the farmer and the landowner.
What is a good rule-of-thumb for the length of a farmland lease?
Kyle: It is something that I would recommend doing every year. As volatile as farming can be, it helps to protect the farmer and the landowner from changes in the ag economy. Flexible leases are a great solution to allow for changes in market prices. But they still give the farmer some security of renting the farmland. Many farmers want to have a longer lease in order to make improvement in the soils and get the most out of the land they rent. Security is something every farmer and landowner wants in their business relationship.
Cecelia: Farmland is unique compared to other businesses and real estate leasing. Because there are differences between soil types, field drainage, shape and size of the tract, even having access to the field is unique. I have also known individuals who have asked for a different rental agreement because it is near an urban or suburban setting where it can be difficult to get a 24-row planter in and out of many of the fields with the constant traffic.
What is one or two things that every landowner should be doing on a regular basis?
Kyle: I would say the most important thing is to just visit the farm on a periodic basis. Do it as often as you can, do it when it is in a rainy season, do it when it is extremely dry. Sit down and look at the soil test the farmer is pulling and just ask questions. Even get a third party to give you their input on them as well. Most farmers welcome more involvement with their landlord. Many legal issues can be much different if there is solid communication between the farmer and the landowner.
Cecelia and Kyle, thank you for sharing your thoughts on how important it is to have professionals like you on a landowners’ side. I know we didn’t scratch the surface on your value or all the scenarios you should be involved in, but that will have to be done on a more personal level. If you have other questions for Cecelia or Kyle, here is a link to their practice: BB&C Agribusiness
Surrounding oneself with the right people is the key to life and owning farmland is no exception. The professionals you work with will help guide you in your land ownership decision. Bird Dog is here to help you connect with the right farmer, because they are not all alike. After all it’s your land, it’s your legacy.