It was just a text. The setting wasn’t formal. There were no lawyers present. We were in Arizona. The sun was shining. A pot of coffee had just been brewed. My wife, Jamie, was sitting outside reading. I was about to join her. But it was closing in on the eleventh hour and our final decision needed to be communicated.
In mid-March, the couple we had been renting 120 acres of land from took us out for supper. For those of you who are not religiously dedicated to reading every one of my columns (shame on you), in the fall of 2015 I began renting 120 acres of what was initially pastureland a mile north of Morden. I broke the land (which was quite a process) and grew a 49 bushel per acre soybean crop on it the following year without applying any fertilizer. The yield exceeded my expectations.
One growing season hardly qualifies as a litmus test for the overall quality of a parcel of land — especially one with no recent crop history — but, there’s an element of risk to any venture, and this happens to be one I can live with.
They presented us with an offer. It was unique, tailored to our conditions and circumstances and to theirs, as well. They had done their research. It was fair. They gave us until the end of March to think it over and respond.
Taking the leap
I’m 37 years old. I see the burden of what that means and the obligations behind it in the eyes of my peers of a similar age. I’m not saying I’m old. No. All I’m saying is that in and around this age, the ether hands you a package, the contents of which are full of words such as, “investment,” “ownership,” “responsibility,” and “future.” These concepts and the value behind them are largely artificial, but they play a role in life.
The possibility of purchasing land plunked me in the middle of this thought process. Starting to take risks outside the comforts of an established, family-run operation is something that most growers would say is a natural course of action for a young farmer. And while I agree, I don’t agree with doing things just because that’s how they have been done in the past. No matter how pedestrian buying 120 acres may seem to some farmers, it’s a big decision for us, and it requires/deserves real thought. And it’s at this point where it’s important to distinguish between what are real concerns and what are artificial pressures.
Listening to their offer and then discussing it further felt like a big step for us. We asked a lot of questions. They asked a lot of questions. It was clear that they wanted us to think about the offer and that they wanted us to be comfortable with every aspect of the offer, as presented. I was excited but quickly remembered that people my age are not to exhibit such emotions when discussing business, even if it is with friends.
They shared anecdotes about their experience trying to make payments on the land when times were tough. Every farmer has such a story or two.
All they needed was a text from me to start the process, and it was nearing the end of March — deadline time. Jamie and I had discussed the pros and cons of owning land — owning that land — and taking on that level of debt. We went through this process a few times, and every time we unanimously arrived at the conclusion that we did not want to pass on such an opportunity. If the five years I’ve been back on the farm are any indication, land doesn’t go for sale very often, and when it does, it’s rarer still that buying it is a possibility.
The specifics of the transaction have yet to be ironed out, but that’s in progress. Papers will need to be signed and lawyers will need to get involved. But for now, Jamie and I will enjoy the honeymoon period between knowing that we’re going to be landowners and not yet having the burdens and obligations that come with such an investment/responsibility.
So, quietly, and unceremoniously, I sent the text, poured a fresh cup of coffee, picked up a book and took a seat beside Jamie under the hot Arizona sun. Nothing changed. No one around me knew what we just did. We were about to meet my parents for breakfast at their RV. We did. We had bacon and eggs.