Farm landowners: Consider conservation

submitted by Sara Berges, Allamakee SWCD

Farm landowners, now is a great time to consider conservation on farmland that you rent out. We encourage all landowners to be aware of what is written in their NRCS conservation plans, what their renters are implementing for crop rotation/tillage/conservation, and what their own goals are for their land.
You have the right to say how you want your land to be managed. For example, if you would like no-till to be implemented on your ground or if you want to ensure that waterways and headlands are seeded down, you can specify that in your farm lease.  You can even revise your NRCS conservation plan to include it in your lease as part of the lease terms. If you do not feel very knowledgeable regarding conservation practices, there are many people who can help you gain a better understanding including the local NRCS office, ISU extension, and local producers.

The first step is to make sure you have a written lease.  ISU Extension has a few lease options available. Written leases are encouraged because they specify the exact terms of the lease, reduce the likelihood of confusion, and are especially beneficial to heirs in case something happens to either lease party.

If you have never had a written lease, it is encouraged that you consult a lawyer to ensure that it is written the way that you want. If you want to make any changes to your lease, even if you only have a verbal lease, you still need to terminate your lease by September first.

Soil erosion is a serious issue in Iowa and throughout the United States. Most of the Allamakee County soils have lost much of their topsoil due to erosion. Erosion has obvious costs for the farmer in lost fertilizer, soil carbon and reduced yield potential.  But landowners also suffer due to a decrease in their asset value. It is difficult to put an exact dollar figure on how erosion impacts the value of a farm, but potential buyers would notice evidence of erosion such as gullies and rills, presence or absence of waterways and headlands, and soil tests will show if nutrients have been replaced in the soil.

In recent years, commodity prices have dropped substantially. As a result, some farmers are rethinking how they manage the land to try to get the most “bang for their buck”, meaning they may want to try to plant a row-crop on every acre of rented farmland. Because of this, many waterways, headlands and buffer strips or strip cropping systems have been removed and converted to continuous corn or corn-bean.

Landowners can encourage producers to keep/maintain conservation practices in many ways. One way might be reducing rent if the specified practices are installed/maintained. Another option is to remove those specific acres from the paid rental acres so that the producer isn’t paying for ground on which they aren’t producing a row-crop.

Keep in mind that based on our steep soils, NRCS plans often require contour buffer strips, terraces or strip cropping to allow for tillage. In addition, waterways should be installed as shown on NRCS plan maps to reduce likelihood of gullying.

There are many cost-share sources available for different conservation practices.  The cost-share funds can go to either the landowner or the tenant, depending on the practice and who is incurring the cost and maintenance.  Some practice options include terraces, grade stabilization structures (ponds), contour buffer strips, cover crops and grassed waterways. For many of the conservation practices, surveys and designs need to be completed before cost-share would be available. If you have any interest in any of these practices, please contact the office.

If you would like to discuss conservation on your farm or review your conservation plan, call the NRCS/SWCD office in Waukon at 563-568-2246, ext. 3 or stop by 635 Ninth Street NW between 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday.

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