Letter to the Editor: Your Responsibility as a Landowner

Recently we observed a situation where a parcel of land is owned by an out-of-area family that rents out the land to a community farm operator. There is no problem with that arrangement as it is in practice throughout the farming area, however, the temptation often arises to bend the regulations regarding animal (and other) waste being spread by different means on that property. You might ask if there aren’t regulations in place to control the volume of waste spread on a particular geological strata region to protect the water quality. There are real recommended rates that are determined by an official nutrient management plan for each farm location and most farmer applicators follow these rules. These are drawn up for each parcel utilizing the annual needed nutrients for specific crops, and incorporated into long-term plans.

As you might expect, the application rates are based on the “maximum” gallons allowed for each crop on that particular parcel. You would be remiss in thinking that anyone would be spreading less than the limit, especially when these operators are hard-pressed for land area for spreading waste. And you are fair in assuming that less than the maximum amount will not be spread, even if the land is in your close proximity. This brings up the often-dodged question of who is responsible if there is a contamination problem with a well, with local intermittent streams, or problems with run-off. Recent Wisconsin law changes put the entire responsibility for any problems of contamination of water supplies with the owner of the land in question, not the land renter. This means that anyone impacted by renter farming practices on land that is owned by you, (even absentee) has the recourse of holding that landowner responsible for activities on his/her farm land.

You will react and say this isn’t equitable, that a renter can violate regulations knowingly or otherwise and the landowner is left as the culpable party. True, it is not equitable, but the lobbied Wisconsin legislators seem to think the ultimate responsibility lies with the landowner – you. The ultimate goal was/is to put the onus for policing these land-rental and spreading practices on the property owner.

Therefore, it is in your best interest to have your long- or short-term contract for land rental very specific in terms of legal manure and commercial fertilizer amounts for each year of your contract with the renter. If you are absent from your property, it is in your best interest to also have your neighbors watch over your property to record any suspected deviation from the contract. (You may have to pay them to do it). The records of land-spreading for each year are to be maintained by the renter and are open to scrutiny by the owner.

As there is a big differential in the compensation that land renters are paying to owners in various parts of the local area, because of soil type, fertility, depth, proximity, etc., it also is in your best interest to be in touch with other parties who have leased out farmland to compare your payment rates with those of your neighbors. You might be surprised by the variances.


Jerry Viste

Sturgeon Bay, Wis.

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