For Stu Swanson of Wright County, building trust with landowners has been passed down through generations. Some of the land he farms was rented by his grandfather and he has witnessed several transitions with descendants.
He owns about 10% of the land he farms. On the remaining 90%, about one-third is owned by a relative, one-third is crop-shared and the remaining third is cash rented. He has developed relationships with 14 different entities – either individuals or groups – and stays in regular communication with them all.
Every landowner is different
Knowing each landowner’s goal is important, said Swanson. “I have one landowner that is more interested in using the land for recreational purposes, so I focus on identifying acres that would be good for recreation purposes and matching them to conservation programs while keeping the other acres productive,” he said. “Other landowners are interested in making sure the land remains productive; they look to me to provide advice on the best farming practices to protect the soil.”
Swanson stays informed about cost-share programs and other conservation initiatives and uses the information to start discussions with landowners. “Programs and funding levels change. Staying up-to-date creates an opportunity to have discussions on ways to improve rented land,” he said.
As farming practices change – whether it’s tillage or technology – he discusses the latest advancements with landowners. “One of my winter projects is to look at updating our sprayer so we can improve nutrient management,” he said.
Protecting landowner’s investment
These conversations, Swanson believes, demonstrate he’s dedicated to protecting the landowner’s investment. “I use yield maps to start conversations about adding filter strips to control runoff and taking marginal land out of production. Grid soil sampling results are shared to demonstrate that we only apply nutrients where they are needed. All of these things matter to landowners and keeps them engaged.”
Swanson believes the dialogues he has with landowners about the care he takes to manage their land has resulted in long-lasting relationships that help him maintain acres in his operation. “I think the more conversations tenants can have with landowners and present options for reaching goals, the more likely we can move the needle to reaching Iowa’s water quality goals,” he said.
Impacts on the future
Swanson understands the options he presents to landowners can impact the land for generations to come. “I like to present multiple options and explain the impacts,” he said. “Land entering a 10-year set-aside program can potentially return to agriculture production, while a tree-planting project changes a farm forever.
“I ask, ‘When the next generation takes over that land, are they going to have the same priorities?’ The commitments we make now provide opportunities and challenges for the next generation. I think it’s important that we help landowners make decisions that make economic, agronomic and environmental sense.”