Unique Considerations in Farm Equipment Leases

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Unique Considerations in Farm Equipment Leases

by Cari B. Rincker, Esq.


Every farm relies heavily on the availability and affordability of appropriate farm equipment. While it may be ideal to own outright any farm equipment that you need, sometimes it is more cost-effective to lease the equipment. When such is the case, the lease arrangement between the owner (lessor) of the farm equipment, and the renter (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 that 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 that future disputes can be avoided. This is true when it comes to describing the farm equipment that 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 amount 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 type of 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 nonfunctional 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.

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 that 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.

Tips for the lessor and the lessee
While it is important that a farm equipment lease agreement be mutually beneficial, there are certain provisions and precautions that each party may wish to pay special attention to. For example, the owner — or lessor — may consider including a clause that preserves his or her right to access the equipment during the lease for any foreseeable need. The owner may also take extra care to ensure that the clauses concerning the renter’s care of the farm equipment are precise and robust. The owner should also be aware of any duty that arises from any timely loss replacement provisions in the lease. On the other hand, the renter — or lessee — should be sure to thoroughly inspect the equipment at issue prior to entering into the lease agreement. Any pre-existing issues with the equipment should be considered and, if deemed nevertheless acceptable, documented in the lease. The renter should also pay particular attention to his or her duties regarding recording use amounts and staying within any maximum use provisions. Finally, the renter should inform himself or herself of the standard operating procedures and the relevant warranties for each piece of farm equipment in order to avoid liability from improper use. Lease agreements are binding contracts with significant consequences. Given the variables and complexities addressed above, it is advisable for either party to hire an attorney to help craft or review a suitable farm equipment lease agreement that is carefully tailored to the unique needs of the parties. Whether an attorney is employed, or whether the parties take it upon themselves to draw up the agreement, the parties to such a lease agreement should ensure that they have adequately addressed each of the issues discussed in this article in order to protect against unnecessary loss.




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