"We need to get past the traditional, often antagonistic, or even abusive relationship that can exist between landlords and tenants," says Warner. "To some farmers, outside investors are the evil corporate entity. Yet we all know renters who pay family members or old family friends 25% of the going rate. We need grown-up relationships where when you do great, we do great, and when you don't do as well, we don't do as well either. We want to attract excellent tenants and give incentives to grow. I don't think that is necessarily the historical relationship."

Chess Ag renters pay in bushels, not dollars, and make all management and input decisions within identified conservation and fertility maintenance goals. Warner sees the day where her firm could offer tenants 'buying power' opportunities. She recognizes that will require them to be confident Chess Ag is looking out for their interests as well as its own. That confidence may be coming as satisfied tenants grow by helping Chess Ag grow.

"We like to work with existing tenants as we acquire additional parcels in a given area," says Warner. "They know the local customs and culture. As they become more comfortable with us, they tell us about property that becomes available."

Colvin & Co., LLP, owns and manages about 4,000 acres in the upper Midwest through two investment funds and also helps independent investors evaluate, purchase and manage farmland. The management firm, with offices in Minneapolis, Minn. and New York City, is seeing an even closer relationship develop with some tenants.

"We've already done about 10 lease-backs, where farmers saw the opportunity to sell land to us and lease it back for a period of time," says the firm's founder and president Greyson Colvin. "They can put the money in a 1031 for new property or use it to buy more machinery and inputs, so they can lease more land. They see investors like us not as threats or competition, but as a source of capital."

Purdue’s Boehlje adds, "There are a lot of new and creative ideas being brought to the market by operators, as well as land management companies and landlords. Increasingly, arrangements become unique to different sets of circumstances. Progressive operators recognize they need to make sure relationships are less transactional and more synergistic, so landlords have less reason to switch and their land tenancy is more secure."