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Sustainable Agricultural Land Tenure Project creates new resources for Iowa farmland owners

March 2, 2011
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SustainableFarmLease.org includes a 56-page "Landowner's Guide."

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 Agricultural Law Center and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University today announced the results of the joint project at a news conference on the Drake University campus in Des Moines.

The Sustainable Agricultural Land Stewardship (SALT) 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 available at SustainableFarmLease.org, a new website created as part of the project.

Issues addressed through 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 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.

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Professor Neil Hamilton

"Drake University is very proud to partner with the Leopold Center and Iowa State on this important project to help educate farmers and landowners about land stewardship," said Professor Neil Hamilton, who directs Drake's Agricultural Law Center and served for 21 years on the Leopold Center Advisory Board.

"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," Hamilton added.

Leopold Center Interim Director Lois Wright Morton praised the project and the collaboration with Drake. "The SALT project offers Iowa's landowners and tenants convenient, carefully researched, easily accessible resources showing the variety of options and opportunities available for them to implement more sustainable practices," she said. "The project's products dovetail very nicely with the Leopold Center's mission to research agricultural alternatives that will enhance Iowa's environmental quality."

Current trends, revealed by research at ISU's Agricultural Extension, point toward increased tenancy and lease agreements with less stable tenure and decreased landlord involvement:

"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," said Edward Cox, a fellow at the Drake Agricultural Law Center. "Creative lease agreements can be used to ensure conservation, provide sustainable tenure security and 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.

The resources at SustainableFarmLease.org can assist these 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 (SALT) Project was supported as a special project of the Leopold Center’s Policy Initiative.

Read more about the release in the Des Moines Register.