Sue Zeltner and Brendyn George, Ohio

August 22, 2019

Farming through Partnership

Brendyn George and Sue Zeltner

In January 2017, AFT partnered with Utah State University, The IPM Institute of North America, Agren, Cornell Cooperative Extension (New York), and Wood County Soil and Water Conservation District (Ohio) to create “Landowners and Farmers Partnering for Clean Water in the Great Lakes” – a three year pilot project to increase the use of conservation practices on leased farmland. Non-farming landowners must be engaged in conservation conversations in order to address the large water quality challenges of today. Knowing this, the project team is testing parallel outreach to farmers who rent farmland, the landowners who own land, and retailers and agricultural advisers who work with farmers.

Specifically, the project seeks to help women non-operating landowners who rent out their land—and the farmers who lease farmland from them—to increase their use of conservation practices. The project focuses on these women landowners because they now own a significant portion of leased farmland.

Sue Zelter, a generational farmer, and Brendyn George, tenant and long-time friend of Sue, showcase the importance of communicating and implementing conservation practices. “I own over 100 acres of farmland that was passed down in my family to me. My tenant, Brendyn, and I have always had great communication. We do a 50/50 crop share which has always worked for us,” Sue described.

A 50/50 crop share enables a farmer and the landowner to work together, making decisions that are best for the farm, all while taking on the same risks. Brendyn said, “You need to make your landlord your friend and always keep in good communication to build trust. Sue has attended workshops and educated herself on many farming aspects, she even looks at the paperwork!”

You need to make your landlord your friend and always keep in good communication to build trust. My landlord, Sue, has attended workshops and educated herself on many farming aspects, she even looks at the paperwork!

Over the past few decades, women have entered agriculture in unprecedented numbers. Increasingly, women own farmland, are new farmers, or have become more involved in all aspects of agriculture.  American Farmland Trust’s national Women for the Land initiative works to empower women landowners to adopt environmentally sound farming practices, protect farmland, and improve the viability of their farms.

“I’m not the only woman in agriculture who wants to gain knowledge. I attended two women learning circles and found many other women who owned farmland. It’s important to be able to learn from other women and to gain a voice for what you want on your farmland,” Sue stated.

With most businesses, communication is a key component of success. Farms that involve a tenant and landowner relationship require communication as a key component towards the success of the operation. Brendyn and Sue have found that by educating themselves with different farming practices—they are able to communication more efficiently.

Both have found resources through their communities to both educate themselves and to implement conservation practices on the land. Brendyn said, “Women who own land can find local groups and even go to their FSA office to gain knowledge. I became one of the first farmers in the area to implement filter strips thanks to the FSA office. It’s all about talking to your tenant and establishing a good relationship.”

Brendyn and Sue represent a model for farmers and landowners in the state of Ohio. The Great Lakes Protection Fund hopes to continue increasing landowner and farmer relationships alongside the use of conservation practices to improve soil health and reduce run-off from leased farmland.


To learn more about the Women for the Land initiative, contact Gabrielle Roesch-McNally, AFT Women for the Land Director, at

Women for the Land