Non-operating Landowners Care About Conservation and Want to Collaborate with Farmers for Long-term Stewardship of Their Land - American Farmland Trust

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Non-operating Landowners Care About Conservation and Want to Collaborate with Farmers for Long-term Stewardship of Their Land

Report challenges two commonly held perceptions — NOLs only care about the financial bottom line and that they don’t really care about the land, showing these statements are simply not true.   

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, American Farmland Trust, the organization that for forty-years has been saving that sustains us by protecting agricultural land from development, promoting environmentally sound farming practices and keeping farmers on the land, released an update to  Understanding and Activating Non-Operator Landowners: Non-Operator Landowner Survey,” adding additional state data, again clearly showing landowners care about conservation and are willing to share in the efforts to steward their land. The survey focused on individually or partnership owned lands, not institutions or trusts.  

Around 40% of farmland in the U.S. is rented, in some U.S. counties that number is nearing 80%, and over a third of this land is owned by women. Conservation practices are less likely to be used by farmers on rented land because of perceptions about landowner views, difficulties communicating with landowners who may live some distance away and because most leases are verbal and typically run year to year, making conservation investment risky. Landowners on the other hand, are often not aware of available conservation programs and are unsure about broaching the topic with their farmers, particularly if they lack on-farm knowledge and experience, which we found is more common when the landowner is a woman.  

“The important revelation of this work is that we have a communication gap rather than a difference in views and that is what led to reluctance to implement conservation on rented land,” said Dr. Gabrielle Roesch-McNally, AFT Women for the Land director. “The good news is that through targeted programming for farmers and landowners alike including instruction on how to come together on conservations goals for the land, long-term leases and implementation supported by government funded conservation programs and joint investment, we can improve conservation outcomes nationally.” 

The survey results provide some of the most comprehensive information we have on women and men NOLs across a diverse geography of landownership in the United States and will help AFT and others identify areas for future work and reinforce the importance of current work: furthering regenerative farming practices, farmland preservation and improved conservation outcomes on the landscape.  

What we know now is that landowners do care about conservation, they need to learn more about it and more specifically be connected to resources designed with them in mind. What’s more, they also deeply care about stewarding the land for future generations and are thinking about farmland preservation.  

The report’s call to action includes five key actions to guide future outreach and engagement with NOLS: 

  • Create greater awareness among NOLs regarding government conservation programs. 
  • Amplify NOLs’ willingness to support their operators with conservation practices on the land. 
  • Reach out to female, and male, NOLs to improve outcomes on rented land. 
  • Engage NOLs to cultivate greater opportunities to strengthen their ties to farming, the land and community. 
  • Emphasize the need for succession planning among aging NOLs. 

The full report is supplemented by fact sheets providing state-specific outcomes and strategies for all 13 states we surveyed. These fact sheets can be found in the NOL resource bank. Other resources can be found on the Farmland Information Center for NOLs and farmers who rent land.    

“Understanding and Activating Non-Operator Landowners” will help guide AFT’s Women for the Land initiative that works with women non-operating landowners and farmers via women-centered learning circles to increase knowledge on conservation, climate resilience, and farmland succession planning; and AFT’s leadership in working with landowners to develop succession plans through our Farmland Legacy program, work designed to address the great transition of land coming in the next 15 years as 371 million acres of American farmland will change hands as senior farmers retire. 


American Farmland Trust is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through our No Farms, No Food message. Since our founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 6.5 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally-sound farming practices on a half million additional acres and supported thousands of farm families.    

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