Sustainable agriculture and land tenure are the focus of a new research and outreach collaboration between Drake University and Iowa State University.
The two-year jointly funded program — the Iowa Landowner and Sustainable Agricultural Land Stewardship project — will be carried out by a partnership between the Agricultural Law Center at Drake and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at ISU.
The two-year project has a budget of $250,000 and is funded in part by a grant from the Leopold Center. Established by the 1987 Iowa Groundwater Protection Act, the center supports the development of profitable farming systems that conserve natural resources.
“Many of Iowa’s key land use decisions are not necessarily being made by producers living on their farms,” said Leopold Center Director Jerry DeWitt.
“We have absentee landlords, tenant farmers, or joint owners in one family making choices about production, land maintenance and conservation. We wanted better information about how to help them make the best determinations that will sustain their land for the future.”
The project will explore trends in Iowa farmland ownership and the transition of land to a new generation of owners, many of whom will rent or lease farmland to others.
A recent study, “Farmland Ownership and Tenure in Iowa 2007” by Michael Duffy, director of the Beginning Farmer Center at ISU, confirmed that more than half of Iowa farmland (55 percent) is owned by people over 65 years old and 28 percent by people over 75 years old. The data also reveal that more than half of Iowa is farmed under some form of a lease.
“We’re interested in studying current farm lease agreements and hope to provide information for landowners about how leases can be used to promote conservation and sustainable agriculture,” said Neil Hamilton, director of Drake’s Agricultural Law Center.
“With the increase in the number of absentee landowners, communicating conservation goals can be a real challenge.”
A second trend the study will examine is the proliferation of other legal agreements impacting farmland, such as wind right leases, manure contracts and conservation easements.
“As owners enter additional legal agreements on their land, understanding how the agreements may affect future owners or how the land is managed, becomes more complicated,” Hamilton said.
As part of the project, Drake will add a fellow position in the Agricultural Law Center. The new staff attorney will conduct research, inventory and survey land tenure legal agreements and practices, interview landowners and advisers, develop survey tools and collect and analyze legal agreements.
In addition, four Drake law students are spending this summer working on internships related to the project’s research agenda.
Drake will use the project’s findings to draft a model sustainable agricultural leasing guide. It will explore the impact of traditional farm leasing agreements and practices on agricultural sustainability and land stewardship and offer alternative provisions and practices.