New to Farmland Management? You’re Not Alone.

Lynn Photo_BFBLby Lynn Heuss Did you know that nearly half the land in Iowa is owned or co-owned by women? If you are one of them, I would like to share some information for you to think about as you consider your land and its future.

Over the past five years, I have talked with hundreds of women about their family farms. In some cases, the women have been part of all aspects of the farm business, and feel confident to make decisions about their land and the farm business when they have sole, or primary, ownership. More often, women feel they have gaps in their information about conservation and farmland management, and that is where WFAN can help.

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In 2009, Dr. Jean Eells and WFAN staff developed a wonderful peer-to-peer conservation education program called Women Caring for the Land. Perhaps you have attended a WCL “learning circle” meeting. Women landowners connect with each other, and with other resource professionals who can help answer questions they may have about the many different aspects of land and farm management.

Over the past six years, 50 – 70% of the nearly 2,000 women who have attended a meeting took some kind of action within the next year. For some it meant going in to their NRCS office, or talking with their family about planning for the future. For others it meant talking to their tenant about creating or updating a written contract, or about implementing some conservation practices on their land, such as cover crops, no-till, or buffer strips.

“But I could NEVER do something like that,” you might be thinking. “My tenant has been farming my ground for years….decades! And I don’t want him to think I’m questioning his decisions.” That’s an understandable first response. If you haven’t been involved in the decision-making processes associated with the farm business before now, it can seem like a daunting prospect to discuss management with someone who’s been in the business of farming his whole life.

But – if you don’t have a contract – do you know what you’re getting for rent? Is it fair to both of you? Do you ever wonder if you could be doing more to keep livestock out of waterways? Are the sides of your creek eroding? Can you trace a trail of water through your fields every year? Do you watch your bare topsoil blow away on dry and windy days, or wash away in heavy spring rains?

These are just a few questions to think about as you begin to manage your land – whether on your own or with other family members. We know that Iowa farmers all want to protect the land and pass it along in better shape than they found it. But productivity and the bottom line can sometimes trump leaving a lasting legacy. Or do you have a tenant who’s wanted to try some new practices and you just weren’t

sure you should spend the money or take the land out of production? Maybe it’s time to sit down with that tenant and talk about how you can work together to protect your precious topsoil so your farm can remain productive into the future.

Here are a few quick steps you might want to consider:

1. First and most importantly, always remember – It’s your land!

2. Educate yourself. Attend a Women Caring for the Land meeting, a Practical Farmers of Iowa field day, or stop by your ISU Extension and Outreach or NRCS office and ask some questions. If you don’t even know where to begin, write me with your questions and I’ll help you find the right place to start. (My email address is lynn@wfan.org.)

3. Talk to friends who may have faced the same situation. Ask them what they did, and maybe even ask them to join you in a conversation with your family or your tenant if you have concerns that the conversation might be difficult.

4. If you don’t know what your tenant thinks about conservation practices, it’s time to sit down and ask.

5. Not sure where to start? Contact us. We have helpful partners all over the Midwest and the nation. WFAN’s general email address is info@wfan.org, and our number is 515-460-2477.

We know that it can feel overwhelming and intimidating to have that first conversation with your tenant farmer (especially if it’s a family member), if you think they might not have the exact same values or plans for the land. But it really is so important that we protect the amazingly productive soil that keeps us in farming. Taking that first step can feel like the hardest one, but you don’t have to do it alone.