Every farm relies heavily on the availability and affordability of appropriate farm equipment. While it may be ideal to own outright any farm equipment you need, sometimes it is more cost-effective to lease the equipment. When such is the case, the lease arrangement between the owner – or lessor – of the farm equipment and the renter – or lessee – of the farm equipment should be documented in detail in a written farm equipment lease agreement. While farm equipment leases may seem to be a simple concept, in practice they are far more complex. This article discusses six critical issues a properly drafted farm equipment lease agreement should address.
What farm equipment does the lease cover?
When it comes to lease agreements, it is always best to describe the terms in as much detail as possible so future disputes can be avoided. This is true when it comes to describing the farm equipment the lease will cover. The lease should describe the type, make, model, size, condition and estimated value of each piece of equipment. If the lease involves a large number of equipment, it may be best to attach an exhibit or addendum that lists the relevant information for each piece of equipment, rather than including the unwieldy information in the body of the agreement.
How should rent be calculated?
While most of us are familiar with a lease model that charges a renter based on a unit of time (for example, monthly rent or annual rent), farm equipment lease agreements do not always do this. Because farm equipment depreciates in value with use, it can make more sense for a farm equipment lease to charge the renter on a “per-use” model. Per-use rent means that the renter pays the owner an agreed-upon rate based on a unit of measurement of use, such as the hourly use or the per-acre use of the equipment. Note that an equipment lease that includes several different types of equipment with different estimated total values may charge different per-use rates per equipment.
There are a few considerations to keep in mind when determining whether a farm equipment lease should employ either a time-based or a per-use model for rent. A per-use model requires the accurate and honest documentation of the renter’s use of the equipment, whereas a time-based model requires no such documentation. Moreover, a time-based model usually guarantees a regular and predictable rent income for the owner of the farm equipment, while a per-use model often requires that the rent will be due at the end of a lease term. The owner may not be able to accurately predict rent income under a per-use model.
If the parties to a farm equipment lease agree that a time-based rent model best suits their needs, but equipment depreciation is still a concern, a hybrid approach may be appropriate. In a hybrid rent approach, the renter pays the owner monthly or annual rent, but the lease contains a “maximum use” provision wherein the renter will owe the owner additional per-use rent at the end of the lease term if the renter exceeds a certain predetermined amount of use of the farm equipment.
Are there any restrictions on the use of the farm equipment?
A farm equipment owner will want to ensure that the renter agrees to use the equipment in a way that avoids equipment damage, excessive depreciation or personal injury. Accordingly, the lease agreement should include terms that restrict unwarranted use. For example, the lease may specify that the farm equipment may be used for agricultural and related purposes only. It may also limit the use to certain geographic locations and certain permitted users (such as the renter and his or her trained agents and employees). The lease may also require that the renter follow certain specified safe operating procedures, as well as any applicable state and federal laws, manufacturer warranties and insurance restrictions.
Who is responsible for repairing damages to the equipment?
A farm lease agreement should clearly delineate which party is responsible for both routine and non-routine repairs or replacement of the farm equipment. While the parties can agree on any division of labor they like, a common default is that the renter will be responsible for the proper care and ordinary maintenance of the farm machinery. This may include routine damage checks, fluid checks and refills, routine cleaning and safe storage. On the other hand, the owner may be responsible for the costs of all major repairs to the farm equipment, such as the replacement of tires and other major parts, or any other overhauls in excess of normal maintenance. The parties should specify in the lease agreement who is responsible for the costs of transporting the farm equipment to the location where any such repairs are performed. While the renter may be held responsible for damages caused by his or her misuse of the farm equipment, the lease agreement should address which party is required to replace any equipment that is non-functional due to circumstances outside of the renter’s control, such as fire, flood, or machinery or electrical failure. If it is the owner’s responsibility to replace the equipment under such circumstances, and he or she does not do so in a timely manner, the lease may include a potential adjustment in rent for the renter.
Who is responsible for insuring the equipment?
Farm equipment is expensive machinery that is often insured. The lease agreement should clearly define which party is responsible for insuring such equipment. Often, the owner will fully insure the equipment against casualty, theft or other loss, damage from natural causes or against personal liability. Meanwhile, the renter may be asked to provide proof of a general liability insurance policy adequate to compensate for any loss caused while operating the farm equipment.
What happens if there is a dispute?
While the primary goal of a farm equipment lease agreement is to avoid any disputes between the parties, a secondary goal is to roadmap what should happen in the event
a dispute nevertheless arises. To that end, a lease should include the parties’ wishes regarding the means to resolve any potential disputes. This includes whether there are any predetermined damages available to either party in the event of a breach, whether the parties plan to use alternative dispute resolution (e.g., mediation or arbitration), which court will have jurisdiction over any legal proceedings, which state’s laws will apply when interpreting the agreement and whether parties will be allowed to recover any reasonable attorneys’ fees incurred in a dispute.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice.