A two-year study of sustainable agriculture and land tenure in Iowa has analyzed legal questions relating to Iowa farmland ownership and the transfer of land to a new generation of owners, many of whom will rent or lease farmland to others.
Drake University's Ag Law Center and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University this week announced the results of the joint project at a news conference on the Drake University campus in Des Moines.
The Sustainable Agricultural Land Stewardship project involved researching farm lease agreements and compiling resources for landowners about how farm leases can be used to encourage soil conservation, which is promoted by Iowa law and court rulings. These resources are now available at SustainableFarmLease.org, a new website created as part of the project.
New website has helpful information on farmland leasing
Issues addressed on the website range from using lease contracts to increase tenure security and soil conservation, to assisting new farmers and integrating livestock into crop operations.
The website also includes a 56-page "Landowner's Guide," which can be printed and distributed to those folks with limited or no Internet access. In addition, the website contains links to additional information based on landowner priorities, along with explanations of important lease provisions and landlord-tenant laws through multimedia content such as videos and podcasts.
"Drake University is very proud to partner with the Leopold Center and ISU on this important project to help educate farmers and landowners about land stewardship," says professor Neil Hamilton, who directs Drake's Agricultural Law Center and who served for 21 years on the Leopold Center Advisory Board.
Looking at transition of land to a new generation of owners
"Iowa's soil and farmland are vital resources and the changing ownership patterns for Iowa farmland present an important opportunity to inform the public about farm leases, soil conservation and other critical legal issues," he adds.
Leopold Center interim director Lois Wright Morton praises the project and the collaboration with Drake. "The Sustainable Agricultural Land Tenure Project offers Iowa's landowners and tenants convenient, carefully researched, easily accessible resources showing the variety of options and opportunities available for them to use more sustainable practices," she says. "The project's products dovetail very nicely with the Leopold Center's mission to research agricultural alternatives that will enhance Iowa's environmental quality."
Massive shift in farmland ownership will occur in coming years
The project is timely because there will be a massive shift in ownership of Iowa farmland in the coming years, as current landowners grow older, die and estates are settled. Current trends, revealed by research conducted by ISU Extension economist Mike Duffy and colleagues at ISU, point toward increased tenancy and lease agreements with less stable tenure and decreased landlord involvement.
More than half the farmland in Iowa is rented, and the areas of the state containing the most fertile ag land have tenancy rates ranging between 61% and 70%. (Source is Rented Land in Iowa: Social and Environmental Dimensions).
55% of Iowa's farmland is owned by people over the age of 65, and 28% of the land is owned by individuals over 75 (Source is Farmland Ownership and Tenure in Iowa – 2007).
Children and spouses of farmers are less likely to continue operating the farm (Source is Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll: 2009 Summary 2).
80% of Iowa's leases are year-to-year tenancies (Source: Survey of Iowa Leasing Practices).
Cash-rent leases, which place more risk on farmers and involve less landowner input, are replacing crop-share arrangements. Cash-rent and crop-share leases were evenly split in 1982, but now cash-rent leases account for 77% of rented farmland in Iowa (Source: Survey of Iowa Leasing Practices).
More competition for farmland, higher rents, rising input costs
"Increased competition for farmland, higher rents and more expensive farm inputs along with decreased landowner involvement in the farm operation can have negative effects on soil conservation and other sustainability issues, such as community development and opportunities for new farmers," says Ed Cox, a fellow at the Drake Agricultural Law Center in Des Moines, who helped put the project together. "Creative lease agreements can be used to ensure soil and water conservation, to provide sustainable tenure security and to create a profitable and lasting landlord-tenant relationship."
As farmland changes hands at an increasing rate, some new owners have little or no agricultural experience and may not live in the same county or state where the farm is located. While these landowners won't be farming the land themselves, they may well have concerns about the land and how it is farmed.
New website has information to help both landowner and tenant
Resources at the www.SustainableFarmLease.org site can assist landowners in gaining the knowledge and confidence needed to sit down with their tenant farmers and discuss how they can work together to have a productive and profitable farm operation and ensure the long-term stewardship of the land.
SustainableFarmLease.org provides a base of knowledge regarding farm lease provisions and the effects of farm lease arrangements on the activities of tenants. This fosters flexible negotiations and a cooperative relationship, based on landowner and tenant characteristics and concerns. The manner in which the information is presented on the website also addresses the increasing diversity of landowners. Traditional printable guides and quick reference materials are available, as well as interactive resources and multimedia platforms.
The Sustainable Agricultural Land Stewardship project was supported as a special project of the Leopold Center's Policy Initiative.
Here are links to ISU Extension resources referenced in this article:
Rented Land in Iowa: Social and Environmental Dimensions 2 (2010), www.soc.iastate.edu/extension/farmpoll/PMR1006.pdf
Farmland Ownership and Tenure in Iowa – 2007 11, www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/PM1983.pdf
Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll: 2009 Summary 2, www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/PM2093.pdf
Survey of Iowa Leasing Practices 2-3 (2007), www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/FM1811.pdf