This article addresses agreements between landowners and the individuals who farm their land, namely sharecroppers and tenants. While the difference between these legal concepts can sometimes be rather blurry, particularly where no written agreement exists, determining whether the cultivator is a tenant or a sharecropper depends on the facts of the relationship agreed to by the parties. 
In a sharecropping arrangement, the landowner grants a license to the cultivator to farm his land. The parties often share in the cost of production and the division of the crop or crop proceeds. Sometimes, the sharecropper farms all of the crop on the owner’s land, while other times he will harvest only his designated portion of the crop, leaving the owner’s portion in the field for the owner to harvest. While the cultivator is responsible for farming the land, generally there is no obligation for him to maintain the land, such as trimming sprouts and ditches, or to repair the property after the crop has been harvested. Having only a license to farm, sharecroppers have no possessory rights in the land. 
By contrast, a tenant does have possessory rights in the demised premises. The tenancy may be for a fixed duration, such as a year, or it may be on multi-year basis, called a year-to year tenancy or a tenancy for years. The tenant typically pays a set amount of rent in cash, either at the beginning of the tenancy or upon harvest of the crop, or hands over a certain portion of the crop as rent. As the tenant owns the crop, he keeps track of the expenses, cultivates the crop, harvests and sells the crop and pays the owner the rent. Generally, there is an obligation on the tenant to maintain and repair the demised premises.
The determination whether the cultivator is a sharecropper or a tenant is important when it comes to terminating the parties’ relationship. For example, a sharecropper is not entitled to receive written notice of termination from the owner, as the sharecropper has only a license to use the land and thus may be ejected as soon as he fulfills his contract. Likewise, a tenant for a fixed duration, even with a possessory interest in the land, is not entitled to any statutory notice;  rather, a tenancy for a fixed term ends upon the expiration of such term. Conversely, a year-to-year tenant is entitled to written notice of termination under §441.050 RSMo, which states an owner must provide written notice to the tenant no less than sixty (60) days before the end of the year. Under this statute, a year means an agricultural year, which customarily begins on March 1st. Thus, written notice under this statute must be given to a year-to-year tenant by December 30 of the preceding year. 
When determining whether statutory notice under §441.050 is required, a landowner should carefully consider the relationship between the parties.  If the cultivator is a sharecropper with no possessory interest in the land, the determination is simple;  notice is not required. The far more difficult question is whether to give written notice to the tenant who possesses the land, especially when the tenant has remained in uninterrupted possession of the land for more than one (1) year. Was the tenant supposed to have possession for only one year, but stayed longer by agreement? Was such continued possession for another set term or was it for an indeterminate amount of time? Given that no written agreement exists between the parties, it may be too risky to leave it to chance. When in doubt, give the 60-day notice to the tenant.
Jerry Potocnik is an attorney in Blue Springs, Mo. He is licensed in Missouri and Kansas.


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