What Are Tenant Farmers?


Tenant farmers live on rural land that's owned by a landlord. The concept of tenant farming involves the landlord contributing their land to farmers who can use it for agricultural production. The rights of a tenant farmer, in terms of how they can use the land and payment methods, vary according to individual contracts.


  • Tenant farming has been a feature of United States farming since the middle of the 19th century. Farmers are usually expected to provide their own agricultural tools and livestock in return for use of the land. Tenant farmers are distinct from the more common "hired hands," who remain employees of the landlord regardless of how much power they have over agricultural processes and whether they live on the landowner's land.


  • In addition to donating their land to tenant farmers, landowners also invest financial capital to fund new machinery or agricultural processes. In turn, tenants contribute their time and their labor to ensure the land is efficiently farmed. Tenant farmers may also contribute capital to improve production methods.


  • Contracts between tenant farmers and landowners vary. Some stipulate that the tenant farmer pays the landowner a cash sum, in the form of rent, for use of the land. Other contracts give landlord payments via a proportion of the harvest yielded from the land or as a combination of a set cash sum with produce share. Some contracts allow tenant farmers to be evicted from the land without prior notice at the landlord's request. However, these terms are less frequent in modern tenancy farming arrangements, where the tenant farmer retains some rights. More secure contracts tie both farmer and landlord into a joint business venture, which lasts for a specific number of years. The landlord doesn't have the right to evict the farmer from the land during this period.


  • "Sharecroppers" are similar to tenant farmers in that they give rent to a landowner and contribute a percentage of the crop they yield each year. However, sharecropper farmers usually contribute nothing to agricultural operations other than physical labor. The landowner will provide agricultural machinery, housing, fertilizers, fuel and livestock. Landowners also have a more "hands on" approach with sharecroppers, offering advice on production methods and crop yields.


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