Farm Conservation Issues

The Des Moines Register editorial board indicated in today’s paper that, “If ever there was an easy time to be a farmer, it’s not now. Crop prices are low and show few signs of rising. Net farm income in 2016 is expected to hit its lowest level since 2002. And producers are under fire for polluting water from here to the Gulf of Mexico.

“Farmers might rightly feel a bit defensive. Much of the debate over Iowa’s dismal water quality has focused on whether farmers are doing enough. That question, however, misses an important point.

Just 20 percent of Iowa farmland owners who rent out land actually farm themselves, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The rest are ‘non-operator landlords’ — retired farmers, investors and heirs. Some live in cities or out of state. About 40 percent have never farmed before.”

The Register noted that, “Let’s be clear: All farmers must be responsible stewards of the land. But what if their landlords don’t understand the value of planting cover crops or investing in bioreactors?”

Today’s opinion item went on to make the case for additional legislative conservation efforts and added that, “It’s not the time, however, to glibly blame farmers. Iowa needs everyone — landlords, tenants, urban and rural Iowans — working together to make progress.”

The Register explained that, “Of the 105,194 farmland owners who rent out land in Iowa, 80.6 percent do not farm land themselves, a USDA study says. Almost half of those non-operators are individuals, but partnerships, trusts and corporations also own significant amounts of farmland.

In 2014, Iowa farm landlords received $3.74 billion in rent payments, the second highest total in the nation.”

Conservation payments account for less than 10% of total Farm Bill spending, it seems likely that some policy makers may seek to increase conservation related programs during the next Farm Bill debate.

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