This is an important question you should be asking yourself if you are leasing land (or want to) for grazing. Should you improve leased land with your grazing management? Please note that if you are properly managing cattle, you will improve the land, to what degree is the difference. For more information on how to do that, please see my free eBook.
Because of Ian’s advice, I’ve begun to realize the importance and value of improving land. Therefore, if you do want to improve someone else’s land, you should be compensated accordingly. For example, let’s say that I’m a mechanic. I love to work on cars. You bring your car to me and I fix it. Because I love working on cars, should I provide the service for free? NO! You would never find a mechanic that would give you free work, unless they are friends or family. The same rationality can be applied to grazing management. You should not improve someone else’s land free of charge, you are selling yourself short.
One way to figure out compensation, if the landowner is even interested, is to carbon test your soils. Please see my previous post on this issue. Another way to accurately gauge the amount of improvement is to do a soil test in addition to a grass sample test. The grass sample and soil tests can be dramatically different as I’ve also learned from Ian. For example, your soils might have a lot of one mineral, but the plant is unable to uptake and utilize that mineral due to other mineral deficiencies, rendering that mineral virtually useless. You could also measure the amount or percentage of soil that is covered by litter on a yearly basis.
So if the landowner is not interested in paying you based on your land improvements, don’t improve the land that much. I know this sounds bad, given that we all want to care for the land, but you shouldn’t let yourself be taken advantage of. A good way to manage properly, without improving the land dramatically and maximize grazing would be to graze 80% of the grass and leave 20%. Compared to other conventional ranchers you will still be leaving dramatically more standing grass and litter! So you don’t need to feel too bad about “taking” more than your “giving.”
Ultimately we need to make a living from ranching. If improving someone else’s land and being fairly compensated is another income stream for you then take advantage of it. The long term benefits you will make to the land for the landowner and the money he/she pays you for making said improvements is a win win relationship. You generate short-term cash flow and the landowner is getting long-term price appreciation.