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Ikes in Action: Farmers and Conservationists Lunch and Learn Together

Christine Curry, Panora Conservation Chapter
Outdoor America 2020 Issue 1
Lunch and Learn

Iowa >> According to data from Purdue University, more than 30% of U.S. farmland is rented from non-operating landowners (NOLs) –people who are not directly involved in farm operations. Unfortunately, rental arrangements between landowners and farmers can create barriers to conservation practices on the ground. Landowners, conservation advocates, and sustainable agriculture experts gathered at a “Land, Lunch, and Learn” event sponsored by the League’s Panora Conservation Chapter and Upper Mississippi River Initiative (UMRI) to discuss ways to remove such barriers.

“Rental arrangements can disincentivize the adoption of conservation practices that could improve soil health, water quality, and land value,” says Mike Delaney, first vice president of the Panora Conservation Chapter. “Our goal was to inform, build awareness, and exchange ideas with landowners and resource specialists.”

“In-field conservation practices like no-till, cover crops, and extended rotations will, over time, make the soil and each year's crop more resilient to floods, droughts, and pests,” says Bonnie McGill, Smith Conservation Fellow and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Iowa. “These practices also reduce nutrient losses to our streams and capture carbon out of the atmosphere. But a farmer has no reason to implement these practices on rented land! Because over half of farmed land in Iowa is rented land, it is critical that landowners customize their lease terms to incentivize conservation practices, which will also improve the value of their land.”

A variety of leading experts discussed how to reach non-operating farm landowners and share with them the best resources available to improve conservation on their land, including by using rental agreements. Participants also discussed how to work with tenant farmers to implement conservation practices that improve the value of land long-term while also improving soil health and water quality in the near- term. The long-term plan of the Land, Lunch, and Learn organizers includes creating a one-stop-shop for non-operating landowners and others interested in improving conservation on rented land.

Learn more about our work on the Upper Mississippi

Main image: The presenting speakers helped the audience recognize the multiple benefits of regenerative agriculture and the need to implement these practices on nearly all Iowa agricultural lands.