Survey says… Washington farmer-landowner relationships are important for on-farm conservation

In November, American Farmland Trust (AFT) released the Washington state fact sheet summarizing results from its Non-Operating Landowners (NOLs) survey that surveyed individually or partnership-owned lands. This survey revealed that there is significant opportunity for increased conservation practices on rented land to improve soil quality.

Since farming on rented land is very common in King County, these results are particularly valuable for our farming community.

AFT conducted this survey in 11 states to learn more about NOL and renter relationships, communication in those relationships, conservation attitudes and behaviors, and conservation and outreach needs,” said Courtney Naumann, AFT Pacific Northwest Agricultural Stewardship Program Manager. “These results will help us understand who we should reach out to engage in conversations around agricultural stewardship, and how we can best serve demographics who fall into a renter/owner role.”

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Specifically, the Washington results are telling in how AFT and King County can support farmer conservation efforts. In Washington,

  • The farmer is the most trusted source for conservation information followed by the local soil and conservation district.
  • Landowners are receptive to changing the terms of their lease to support their farmers in experimenting with more conservation on their land.
  • The desire for landowners to keep the land in farming reveals the symbolic importance of the land, an important entry point for conversations.
  • Targeting the non-operator landowners audience with educational materials can improve their awareness of and willingness to support conservation and partnership with farmers to meet larger goals for their land and its legacy.
  • A large percentage of landowners do not live on the land and live a significant distance from the farm, presenting a barrier for face-to-face communications.

In other words, if you are a farmer who wants to try new conservation practices on land you rent, this survey is good news. Your landowner is probably supportive, and they trust your judgment as a farming expert.

This survey is also important for consumers.

“Everyone eats, and eating local food is how consumers can connect to the land, farmers, and everyone else involved in strengthening our food system,” said Naumann. “Washington’s soils, landscape features, and climatic region are so unique, and farmers have the ability to produce over 300 different commodities in this region, which is rare or improbable in other farming states.

“Appreciating the value of our soils, land, and the farmers who grow our food is vital,” said Naumann. “This survey highlights that, in Washington, landowners and farmers care deeply about conserving the land for future generations and having healthy working relationships. Ultimately, everyone has a role in protecting farmland, even through small actions at the farmers market or grocery store. Consumer support for local farmers supports land conservation and can allow farmers to meet their on-farm conservation goals.”

Survey findings can begin to help policymakers and agencies understand how best to work with non-operating landowners to achieve more effective resource management on rented land.

Read more about this survey here.

Image courtesy of American Farmland Trust.

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