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Doing the Math on Pasture Rental Rates (Part 1)

By   /  February 26, 2018  /  Comments Off on Doing the Math on Pasture Rental Rates (Part 1)

Running the numbers isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but we’ll try to make it a little less painful with some help from our friends.

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cartoon_then-a-miracle-occurs1This is the second part in a series we first ran in 2014. We’ve updated it with some new information and input from On Pasture readers. Enjoy! (Here’s the first in the series.)

There are a variety of bases for figuring a pasture lease price and each of them involves its own math. You can figure by return on investment or annual leases, or figure out a per acre, per head grazed, per month, per Animal Unit Month cost, or share the risk and reward with the landowner by paying a rate based on pounds gained. Lots of people have shared lots of information on how to do the math for the various methods. Here’s a condensed version of their recommendations.

Return On Investment

Last week I showed you a chart of what pasture land was worth, on average, in different states in the U.S. in 2014. Remember, that’s just an average. Some pasture will be worth more, other pasture worth less depending on where it’s located in the state, the kind of forage it produces, etc.

What we can do with this information is plug the numbers into a formula that allows us to figure out how much we’d like to charge for a given pasture so that we get some kind of return on our investment. Here’s a sample calculation from a University of Arkansas fact sheet (downloadable here).

If the land is assessed at $200 per acre and banks charge 8 percent for loans (or a return of 8 percent on investment is desired), then pasture rent is calculated as follows:

($200) x (8%) = $16/ac per year base cost

The problem with this method if you’re the person leasing is that it doesn’t take into account forage quality or production or whether there is adequate fencing, water and other things that you need to care for livestock on pasture.

Forage Value

One of our readers sent us this link from Iowa State University for more suggestions on how to figure lease rates.

On Pasture reader Gene Schriefer noted that forage value is another good way to look at how much you should pay for pasture.  He also reminded us that one of the hardest things to change is the soil and what it is capable of producing. So let’s take a look at tools we have for estimating forage production and what it’s worth.

We start by figuring out how much a given piece of pasture might produce in tons of forage.  You may already have a good idea what to expect. If not, you can ask a local farmer, talk to your Conservation District, Natural Resources Conservation Service (find closest office here), or Extension staff, or, you can use the NRCS’s online soil survey tool.  Not only will the tool tell you about the soils in the pasture that you’re considering, but it will also tell you how much forage production you might expect. Here’s an On Pasture article with instructions for using the soil survey tool to get that information.

As Gene suggests, one way you can do the math from here is to figure the value of the hay (estimated production) and then subtract the harvest costs and the cost of livestock transportation and your own time and travel to check on your livestock to arrive at the maximum you might pay.

Iowa State University Extension Economists suggest taking the estimated forage production and multiplying it by with 25 % of the price of grass hay during the grazing season for pasture, or 35% of the price of hay if you’re looking at an established hay stand. Here’s what their math looks like:

Price of hay/ton x 25% or 35% depending on your forage = rent/acre
With numbers plugged in it looks like this:

Pasture at 25%
$100/ton x .25 = $25 per acre rental rate

Established Hay Stand at 35%
$100/ton x .35 = $35 per acre rental rate

This forage production table is included in the information on pasture rental rates from Iowa State University. Click on the image to go their site.

This forage production table is included in the information on pasture rental rates from Iowa State University. Click on the image to go their site.

Whew! Are you tired of math already? Hang in there! Since this is all in an effort to help us make good choices and be successful in our business, let’s keep going. Next week we’ll talk about figuring pasture rental rates based on how many animals your pasture will feed.  It means stretching our brains to understand Animal Unit Months (AUMs), but it’s well worth the effort as you’ll be able to use this information as part of your overall pasture management too. And before we’re done, we’ll even add some math about how you can put numbers to pasture quality as you go about figuring how much a pasture is worth.

This is our Special Collection of pasture leasing related articles.

Thanks to the National Grazing Lands Coalition for making this article possible.

The 7th National Grazing Lands Conference is coming up in December and it’s one of On Pasture’s favorites. One of the things that makes it so great is that folks just like you are the speakers, sharing their great experiences. Learn more about how to be a speaker here. And learn more about the event here.

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About the author

Publisher, Editor and Author

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

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