Economic Tidbits

Where are the Absentee Landowners?

Share of Acres Rented

Land farmed and ranched by Nebraska agricultural operators consists of land owned by operators, land leased by operators, and a mix of land owned and leased. According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, 56 percent of the land farmed in Nebraska is owned by the operator and 44 percent is leased—levels which did not materially change from the 2012 Census.

Nebraska ranks tenth among states in the percentage of ground rented with Illinois topping the nation at nearly 60 percent (Figure 3). Rented land is generally owned by absentee landowners who live outside the area where the land is located. A recent study by the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) sought to shed light on absentee landowners and the distances between their place of residence relative to the land they own.

Figure 3. Share of Acres Rented by State, 2012 & 2017

Share of Acres Rented
Source: Siraj G. Bawa and Scott Callahan. Absent Landlords in Agriculture – A Statistical Analysis ERR-281, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, March 2021.

In 25 states studied, the USDA researchers found the majority of nonoperator landowners reside within 100 miles of the land they rent. In fact, 67 percent of the acres leased, over 180 million acres, are owned by persons who reside within 50 miles of the land (Figure 4). Another 24 million acres is leased by owners who live between 50 – 100 miles away.

In Nebraska, the average distance between rented land and the landowners is 164 miles (roughly the distance between Lincoln and Lexington). One-half of nonoperator landowners of Nebraska land live within 13 miles of their rented land, and 75 percent of landowners live within 102 miles.
Sometimes concerns are expressed with the lack of connection between absentee landowners and the communities where the land is located. Particularly with those who live out-of-state or live long distances from the land they own. Landowners’ states of residence weren’t identified in the USDA research, but given its findings, it would seem most absentee owners of Nebraska land reside in the state. Thus, it’s likely that owners of Nebraska farm and ranch land still have a connection to the land and communities where the land is located.

Figure 4. Rented Acres by Nonoperator Landlords at Different Distances (U.S.)

Rented Acres By Nonoperator
Source: USDA, Economic Research Service and USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2014 Tenue, Ownership, and Transition of Agricultural Land (TOTAL) survey.

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