We’re seeing lots of evidence that Iowa farmers are taking on the challenge of improving the state’s water quality and reducing soil loss. They are planting more acres to cover crops, are installing edge-of-field structures and, maybe most importantly, have adopted a whole new attitude about boosting conservation.

But farmers can’t do it alone. With more than one-half of Iowa’s farmland owned by people who don’t currently farm for a living, it’s critical that landowners also pitch in on water quality.

A new Iowa State University (ISU) Survey shows Iowa landowners, like farmers, are starting to climb onto the conservation bandwagon.

The Iowa Farmland Ownership and Tenure survey asked landowners in 2017 if they would be willing to help their tenants adopt cover crops. More than one-third of the responders (35 percent) expressed interest in helping out cover crops, and another 20 percent said they would be willing to consider it.

Specifically, 20 percent said “yes” they would be willing to pay a portion of the cost of planting a cover crop and 16 percent said “maybe” on the cost question. Another 10 percent said they would lower the rent for tenants who plant cover crops, and 5 percent said they would consider offering a longer lease for a tenant who plans to plant cover crops.

It was the first time the survey included cover crop questions, so ISU researchers can’t determine trends of landowners’ support for cover crops. 

But I suspect it is growing.

Whether they farm or not, the vast majority of Iowa landowners know that conservation practices, like cover crops, improve the land and make it more valuable over time. It’s simply a good long-term investment, and one that will help improve the state’s water quality.