Greg Townsend  and farmer Bret Pierce
FIELDING QUESTIONS: Andy Mullan (right) of Farmland Stewardship Solutions and farmer Bret Pierce say more landlords are interested in environmental stewardship and are asking questions about how their land is being farmed.

Register for 2017 SOIL conference

Landowners and stewardship is theme of July 27 event in Des Moines.

Registration is open for a conference focused on landowners and soil stewardship July 27 at Drake University in Des Moines. Sustaining Our Iowa Land (SOIL) 2017 is a full day of information targeted for landowners, especially non-operators.

The goal of SOIL 2017 is for landowners to develop a better lease for their land, one that’s environmentally responsible, is economically sound and protects the land for the future. Landowners attending can learn how conservation and sustainable farming practices are compatible with modern farm production and profitable for both landowner and tenant.

“This is a unique program and opportunity for landowners across the Midwest to come together and discuss topics relevant to them as caretakers to a million-dollar-plus investment in many cases,” says Greg Townsend, executive director of Farmland Stewardship Solutions, a sponsor.

“Owning farmland in today’s environment is complex. It’s not that you need to be an expert in all areas, but it is important that you stay current of issues affecting farmland owners,” he says. “ This is an ideal venue to discover information on every aspect of owning, managing, investing and passing on to the next generation healthy, sustainable farmland. This gives participants the chance to learn from experts as well as networking with other landowners.”

Speakers for the conference come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. Topics they will cover include the landowner’s role in stewardship, conservation and the economics working together, the power of on-farm data, systematic and sustainable leasing, the farm as an ecosystem, open communications with tenants, soil health on the farm, the cost of mismanaging soil, navigating land improvement programs, land trusts, conservation decisions on rented land, and preservation of family’s heritage.

Panel disccussion planned
Rounding out the conference will be a landowner and a farmer panel discussion addressing topics such as how to develop a lasting partnership, ways of keeping the landowner informed on what’s happening on the farm, and how to discuss conservation practices and the economic returns impacting both parties. Both panels will take questions from the audience.

This conference is sponsored by Farmland Stewardship Solutions, Drake University Ag Law Center, the Iowa Water Center, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and the Nature Conservancy.
It will be held at Drake’s Olmstead Center starting at 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Cost is $75 per person or $100 per couple. Register online at or call 515-243-9352.

Assistance for non-operating landowners

Until recently if you own farmland and rent it out, you had two options: hiring a farm management company or supervising your rented land on your own. Some landowners aren’t ready or may not want to hire a farm manager, but they need help figuring out what is an appropriate rent for their property.

“This can be done if you know all the information available on the land, to make sure your farm is as productive as possible and also operated in a sustainable conservation-minded system. This is our niche,” says Greg Townsend, of Farmland Stewardship Solutions, based in Des Moines.

FSS President Mark Gannon established a farm leasing division of Gannon Real Estate in 2008, known as U.S. Farm Lease. The name was changed to Farmland Stewardship Solutions two years ago to focus on managing data generated by farming operations. “We support the lease and stewardship goals of clients — both landlords and tenants,” he says.

With the amount of on-farm data that can be collected with satellites, aerial imaging and other ways, “we can now verify the production practices, yields, fertility, and oversee the conservation issues in a manner that’s good for the owner and nonthreatening to the farmer,” says Townsend. “We prefer long-term leases that can adjust to the market but have a good base rent and the possibility to adjust when yields are good and the prices better than expected.”

Flexible cash leases
Landowners like the upside potential and farmers are fine with giving a little more when times are good. FSS acts as the data and lease monitoring agent for the landowner who still controls the land. Both tenant and landowner will do better when the farm is doing well.

“We can work with any lease the landowner and farmer have set up, but we prefer cash rent with a flex payment possibility after harvest,” says Townsend. “We probably have 15 different versions of leases we assist landowners and tenants with. We can help set up a lease that fits the need, but we can oversee any lease situation.”

Since FSS works with data from the farmer, input suppliers, satellite imagery and other sources, “we don’t have to be ‘hands-on’ like a farmer or the owner,” says Townsend. “Yet, if there’s need to be out there with boots on the ground, we can assist. We need to understand the property and farmer-owner relationship; then we can set up the open communication needed for a good farm lease arrangement.”

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