Options for Idle Land

— Written By

This piece originally appeared in the Warren Record.

If you own a few acres of idle land, you may be wondering how to make it productive. If your acreage is large enough, say a minimum of about twenty, then I just so happen to have a couple of ideas for your consideration.

But first, let me warn you that these two ideas are not very exciting. In fact, they are rather dull.

I’d also like to mention that these two ideas are not very lucrative. One of them might generate a few hundred dollars each year. The other might generate a few thousand dollars in about thirty years.

But before you give up and flip to the sports section, allow me to explain some of the advantages of these approaches. First, they are relatively easy. In either case, there is very little physical labor involved since you’ll be leaving that to others.

Second, they are relatively inexpensive. There is little if any equipment to buy.

Third, either of these options may have other benefits, such as reducing your property tax bill. More on that later.

These advantages are significant when you consider that almost any other land use option requires many hours of ongoing labor and thousands of dollars of investment to get started (e.g. equipment, seed, fertilizer, fencing, etc.).

If you’ve stayed with me this far, then you’ve finally reached the meat, i.e. the dull and not very lucrative options for your land.

Option one is to rent your land to a farmer, and works well for land that is cleared (e.g. pastures or farm fields). “How much can I get?” will no doubt be your first question. It’s a fair question but one I won’t answer, since the amount will vary widely depending on field size, soil type, location, whether there is an irrigation pond, and many other factors. However, I will share some points to consider.

First, some good news; land rent values have been rising in recent years (data on averages is available from the USDA). However, 2015 was a very tough year for North Carolina farmers, and they are facing enormous pressures to reduce expenses.

The landowner should also factor in “fringe” benefits they might receive from renting the land. As an example, the farmer can help you keep an eye on the property which could reduce trespassing and vandalism. Second, the farmer may be willing to help maintain field edges and access paths. Third, the crops the farmer grows may enable you to qualify for something known at the Present-Use Value Program, which can reduce your property taxes.

I think the important thing is for both parties to negotiate in good faith. As a landowner, you would be wise to get advice from an appropriate professional advisor, and it’s probably best to have some type of written agreement.

The other boring and not very lucrative option is to raise pine trees. This is the option where you have to wait a long time for income, since trees don’t grow all that fast, and they have to reach a pretty good size to have value.

It also requires a small investment up front for planting (you buy the seedlings and hire a crew to plant them). You will also have occasional expenses for things like thinning the stand and hazard reduction burns, but there may be programs to offset the cost.

This is certainly a great option if the land already has trees growing on it, since in many cases you can implement management practices that will help them grow better, faster and bigger. And like the first option, it may allow you to qualify for the above-mentioned Present-Use Value Program.

If you’d like more information on either of these boring and not-very-lucrative options for your land, feel free to give me a call. If, on the other hand, you are willing to invest thousands of dollars and many hours of ongoing labor, please let me know because that’s when it starts to get interesting.