A Farmer’s Take on the Iowa Statewide Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory Report

My dad didn’t farm like my grandpa, and I don’t farm like my dad.  For five generations, my family has been changing how we farm in Iowa and I fully expect the next five generations to keep changing as well.

It is time for a change in the way farmers farm.

The 2016 Iowa Statewide Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory Report from the Iowa Department of National Resources provides some bad news by the numbers for agriculture. While all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Iowa are down 2% from 2015 and 9.29% lower than the peak in 2007, emissions from agriculture have slowly risen over the past four years nearer to the peak in 2007.

Agriculture continues to be the largest contributor toward Iowa’s GHG emissions, making up 31% of the total.  Not included in this total is GHG emissions from fossil-fuel fired agricultural equipment like tractors and combines, as they are included in the transportation sector.

Iowa farmers are not yet fully engaged in dealing with greenhouse gas emissions and climate change that is caused by us.  This is to all of our detriment, and the time has come for us to act. We have the opportunity to embrace the change and make a profit.

Farmers have already done this. Farmers led in wind energy generation policy, development, and practice, which, in turn, benefitted the environment and our pockets. The lion’s share of the reduction in GHG emissions since 2007 came from an increase in wind energy generation and the decrease of coal fired energy. Farmers and landowners were paid over $20 million in 2016 in lease agreements for the generators turning on their land.

As we lead the nation in wind energy generation, we can also lead the nation in carbon farming while reducing emissions and increasing our profits.

Obviously, we’ll have to modify our farming systems, but that’s something we are doing all the time.

The 2016 Iowa Statewide Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory Report provides an opportunity to develop a vision to how Iowa agriculture can change to sustainably produce commodities to meet the growing demand.  As we evolve our farming systems to reduce emissions and to sequester carbon, we can solve most of our water quality problems, too.

I’m going to keep trying to improve Iowa farming practices, because I know that’s what my great-great grandfather did and I hope my great-great grandniece will keep doing.

Iowa Landowner’s Legal Guide in Practice

My husband Pat and I bought a farm in 2005.  In the first 5 years of owning our farm, we had more questions than we had answers.  I grew up on a farm.  Pat had spent his whole life in and around Des Moines.  Together we had to navigate the challenges and opportunities of developing our farm while leveraging all the resources we could find.

I drew on my childhood experience and called my parents who had farmed for more than three decades.  We reached out to professionals, such as our attorney, our banker, and our ag service providers.  Pat offered important insights because he wasn’t locked into ways of thinking about the farm that might have been part of my family’s traditions but not necessarily limited by Iowa ag law.  We also tapped into my network of fellow food and agriculture professionals.

Not everyone who owns or is planning to own farmland is as fortunate as I have been to work with agriculture lawyers, extension educators, and elected officials.  But, many of the questions we’ve dealt with are answered in the Agricultural Law Center’s new resource The Iowa Landowner’s Legal Guide.

The guide covers many of the issues that challenged us whether we were dealing with fences, working with other farmers to put crops on our farm, or building ponds and waterways.

Owning a farm is an incredibly rewarding experience.  Those rewards can be financial, but they also include the feeling of achievement when you solve a problem creatively and learn first-hand about how we live together with others in our communities.

The Agricultural Law Center is creating this resource to help landowners maximize the rewards of owning farmland and to minimize the challenges, especially as those things relate to Iowa law.  We encourage you to use the book chapters, videos, and accompanying directional documents to help you maximize all of your returns from your piece of Iowa farmland.


Center Update Nov. 10, 2017

The Drake University Agricultural Law Center continues our commitment to lead efforts to improve Iowa’s water quality.

In July, the Center hosted “Sustaining Our Iowa Land (SOIL) 2017: Cultivating Your Investment—Landowners and Stewardship.”  The conference included over 120 speakers and land owners from nearly half the counties in Iowa interested in protecting land, caring for soil and water, and developing the value of Iowa farmland.

“We were excited to partner with Iowa leaders to put more conservation on Iowa farms,” said Neil Hamilton, director emeritus of the Drake Agricultural Law Center. “There is growing concern that Iowa’s commitment to protecting soil and water resources has waned. Our goal is to help landowners re-focus their efforts to not only improve their own farms, but to help Iowa again become a leader in protecting our state’s greatest resource.”

“We help landowners develop the natural resource that is their farm,” said Mark Gannon, owner of Farmland Stewardship Solutions. “This conference was a great way for our company to partner with the Drake Agricultural Law Center and other Iowa groups to empower Iowa farmland owners to combine agricultural productivity and environmental stewardship.”

Agricultural Law Center hosted the event in cooperation with Farmland Stewardship Solutions, the Iowa Water Center, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and The Nature Conservancy.  Videos are available of all of the presentations from the conference.

Hamilton is also working on two related projects.  “Our Water” is a series of short radio clips.  Listeners can hear the first six commentaries from our website.

The second project is “Iowa Landowner’s Legal Guide”  The guide is still in editing but 10 companion videos are available.

The Agricultural Law Center will continue to partner with organizations and funders to advance the role Iowa agriculture must play in cleaning up our state’s water and protecting our state’s soil.