Bringing land rental into the electronic age

Veurinks

Highlights

  • With the rise in popularity of rented farmland in Canada, questions about price and availability have become important to producers
  • Before Andrew and Kevin Veurink founded RentThisLand.com, finding available farmland to rent or lease was difficult
  • RentThisLand.com is an easy way for landlords and tenants to connect and finalize agricultural rental and lease agreements

Since the late 1970s, the proportion of Canadian farmland rented versus owned by those farming it has steadily risen, making questions about price and availability extremely pertinent to producers.

Price varies depending greatly on factors such as productivity and location. But for the most part, guideposts exist to help you figure out if someone’s asking price is right for you. Try comparing the cost of your inputs to your anticipated returns and your profitability target. That should help clear up whether the rental price is in your comfort zone.

But availability is another matter. Before you even start thinking about price, how do you find out what land is out there for rent? Common sense dictates you keep your ear to the ground, and pay extra attention to coffee shop talk about land rental – a hit-and-miss proposition. Another approach is to make a direct appeal to neighbours who might be in the market to rent. But sometimes those advances are unwelcome.

"These guys really know land rental, and every website feature enhances the leasing process ... it’s really a no-brainer choice for landowners and farmers."

About three years ago, brothers Andrew and Kevin Veurink found themselves in this precarious position as they scouted for rental land around their family farm near Hagersville, Ont. The Veurinks were well established in the area with their father Hank having been a successful chicken producer for more than 14 years (he ventured into cash cropping, as well).

But still, like other farmers, the Veurinks were stumped when it came to methodically finding rental land. And there was nowhere they could turn for help. Eventually, as word spread that they were in the market for rental land, neighbours started coming to them.

“We were glad about that,” says Andrew, 30. “We haven’t knocked on anyone’s door; we want to keep good relations in the area and not step on anyone’s toes.”

It was the old-fashioned approach, but their patience paid off – they have amassed 1,400 acres of rented land (including 450 acres from their father, and some of his rental properties once he retired) within a 20-kilometre radius. That complemented the 750 acres they own, almost exclusively clay soil, on which they grow corn, soybeans and wheat.

Growth potential realized

Together with custom work on about 1,000 acres for other farmers – mainly planting, spraying and combining – which they figure accounts for about 30 per cent of their business, they’ve developed a thriving operation. Most recently, they added an impressive 20,000-square-foot shop on a well-groomed corner of land near the farmstead. The shop doubles as a clean-energy project for them, with a 250-kilowatt rooftop solar system that serves as a diversified income source for their operation.

As well, they purchased a self-propelled, high clearance sprayer with a 120-foot front-mount boom. The versatility of this machine allows them to do late application nitrogen and fungicide on their corn.

New approach to land expansion

But even though the Veurinks are committed to farming for the long haul, the traditional wait-and hope approach to land rental left them thinking there must be a more efficient way to connect landowners and renters. That’s when they came up with a web-based concept called RentThisLand.com.

Here’s how it works: landowners register online, create a listing, monitor offers during the listing period, then pick one they like. Likewise, farmers register online, customize their preferences for location, acres and soil type, make offers on land they want to rent, and ultimately finalize the lease. The Veurinks get a $20 fee when farmers submit an offer, and 1.5 per cent of the lease value paid by the selected tenant once the transaction is complete. “We try to make the process as fair as possible for buyers and sellers,” says Kevin, 32.

RentThisLand.com garnered attention across a broad spectrum of agriculture. As of this summer, 2,650 Canadian farmers had registered, along with 520 landowners. It also drew accolades from the Ontario government, earning the Veurinks the prestigious Premier’s Award for Agri-food Innovation Excellence in 2013. And finally, outside agriculture, RentThisLand.com was featured on the popular CBC show Dragons’ Den, attracting investment from Bruce Croxon of Round 13 Capital.

“These guys really know land rental, and every website feature enhances the leasing process ... it’s really a no-brainer choice for landowners and farmers,” Croxon says.

Indeed, the Veurinks work hard to help others find rental land and to be good renters themselves. For example, five years ago they rented a 147-acre parcel of hilly clay land near their home farm, and immediately began improving it. They planted it to soybeans, and watched yields improve from about 40 bushels an acre the first year to 54 last year. “We see advantages over the long term,” Kevin says.

Buy and improve

They’re also buying land when it’s available. In the past three years they’ve bought four farms, and again immediately started improvements with lime, manure and in some cases tiling. The latest purchase, a 94-acre parcel last summer, won’t see a crop until next year as the brothers continue to get it up to their standards.

They attribute their success to having a good working relationship – regarded by some as one of the best they’ve ever seen in a farming partnership – and not being risk-averse. They may make mistakes, but they’re young and committed to the profession, so they’ll have time to bounce back if they hit a snag.

"Efficiency is the key,” says Kevin, who does the farm’s bookwork. “We both handle decision-making and maintenance, and divide up other duties like combining and spraying, and planting and trucking. You see your strengths, use professional help where necessary, and don’t be afraid to take chances.”

And whether you rent or own land, that’s sound advice.

From an AgriSuccess article (Nov/Dec 2015) by Owen Roberts.