May 19, 2020


Agrarian Commons project helps make US farmland affordable


The US-based project uses community-based land ownership, giving small-scale farmers affordable, long-term land leases, reported the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


Ian McSweeney, Agrarian Trustorganizational director (the entity overseeing the project) said land ownership is important as farmers need the guarantee of long-term, secure tenure.


The Agrarian Commons project was launched with 12 farms covering 2,400 acres. It uses a similar approach to a community land trust: a non-profit keeps the land title under the property, dropping the price of the home and keeps it affordable for future homebuyers.


McSweeneys said all the farms are converted into separate non-profits with its own land, projects and follow different bylaws.


One example is the New Roots Community Farm, an 84-acre property located in Fayetteville, along the Appalachian Mountains. There, the farm not only leases land to farmers, but also boosts their skills, 


McSweeney also said the Agrarian Commons helps remove the link between agricultural land and market forces. According to the USDA in 2018, farm real estate values have more than doubled between the year 2000 and 2015, while farm prices remain flat as commodity prices decrease in recent years.


Land leases for the project are intended to be for up to 99 years. Farmers will not be charged by acre, but rather through individual agreements, depending on what is affordable. This can amount to between US$5,000 and US$12,000 annually.


McSweeney said there are 18 similar operations in Europe. One project, Terre de Liens in France has raised 90 million EUR (~US$97 million; 1 EUR = US$1.10) and owns 220 farms since 2003.


The project director said part of the support for the Agrarian Commons comes from an older demographic of US farmers, with an average age of 62. Close to 400 million acres of land will change ownership in the next 20 years as these farmers retire.

The project helps carry the agriculture legacy they've created to the future.


Jerry Cosgrove, American Farmland Trustfarm legacy director said the Agrarian Commons project helps farmers with affordable capital and land.


Susanna Wheeler, New Roots farm manager said the commons helps preserve farmland from being sold to developers.


-      Thomson Reuters Foundation