SOUTH ROYALTON — It’s not clear how many farmers know about it, but the Vermont Law School is adding to a toolkit aimed at removing the confusion and mystery surrounding the legal side of farmland management.
The Farmland Access Legal Toolkit has been available to farmers and landowners across the country for about a year now, said Emily Spiegel, assistant professor of law at the Vermont Law School. On Thursday, the school, through its Center for Agriculture and Food Systems, announced a new tool for the kit, the Farm Lease Builder.
All of the resources in the kit, including the Farm Lease Builder, are free, said Spiegel in an interview on Monday. While previous tools were largely informational, helping people learn more about transferring farmland, creating easements, finding an attorney, and the like, the lease builder will actually craft a draft lease agreement based on information it is given.
Spiegel said the center isn’t certain how many farmers are using the resources, but it has some idea.
“Since March 8, 2018, the Farmland Access Legal Toolkit has had 20,520 users,” said Spiegel. “About 10% of them are returning users, which suggests that those people are continuing to find the site useful. There have been 40,881 page views in total.”
Spiegel said Jeanette Eicks, director of the Vermont Law School’s Center for Legal Innovation worked with Exari Systems Inc., based in Boston, on the Farm Lease Builder. She said Exari donated its time for the project.
She said in the United States, about 40% of land can be considered farmland. Of that, 40% is leased. It’s also expected that over the course of the next 10 years, a large number of farmers will be retiring. Many will be wanting to do something with their land that will require some kind of legal arrangement, which is why the Center for Agricultural Food Systems has created the toolkit.
“Land access is currently one of the biggest hurdles for new farmers in the United States,” said Laurie Beyranevand, director of the Center for Agricultural Food Systems, in a release. “The Farmland Access Legal Toolkit assists new as well as retiring farmers through a suite of resources that offers innovative models of ownership, leasing, and estate planning that have worked for other farmers in similar situations. We’re excited to add the Farm Lease Builder to the Toolkit.”
Spiegel said since attorneys charge a great deal of money by the hour, the toolkit can help save farmers and landowners some time and money. She said because the tools are fairly new, it’s not clear how many have used it.
“This tool provides a comprehensive process for helping farmers and landowners think through how they’d like to handle issues that commonly arise in a farm lease situation,” said Amanda Heyman, project partner and consultant with the Center. “Having thought through these issues in advance and having come to a common understanding, the parties to the agreement are much more likely to have a successful business relationship. Also, it helps to have something in black and white to refer back to a few years into the lease, when it’s hard to remember exactly what was agreed upon, and to help resolve disputes.”