Agricultural land can become a great conservation legacy.
Many Iowa landowners own cropland as well as natural land — sometimes intertwined. Landowners may also feel a special responsibility for deciding the future of a family farm.
Permanent protection options can often apply to productive land as well as natural land. Some conservation partners are in a position to steward your cropland well into the future.
Donating or bequeathing your cropland to a conservation organization has these advantages:
- Income from your land can support the conservation mission of a conservation organization you admire. The gift of cropland can keep on giving into the future as it produces crop revenue.
- Conservation organizations will share your conservation values as they make land management decisions.
- You can donate the land with specific restrictions on its use.
- When your land includes both income-producing fields and natural places, there is abundant potential for a conservation organization to care for both kinds of land with nature and the future in mind.
As you consider donating land to a conservation organization, talk with them about:
- Their ability to manage the land well
- Any desire you have to see some cropland restored to trees, native prairie species, wetland, etc.
- Any restrictions or intentions you are considering to direct the land’s future use
- How they will use any income that your land produces over time
- Whether your family name, or a name you choose, can remain permanently on the land
If your estate plans bequeath land to a charity, please talk with the charity in advance about your wishes and expectations. This gives you the assurance that they can carry out your vision for the land as well as the purpose of your gift.
Conservation easement solutions
Conservation easements on agricultural land may make it more affordable for the next generation to inherit the land.
When the family farm is located in an area where its development value exceeds its agricultural value, the cropland may contribute to an estate valuation high enough to trigger estate taxes. Even if you want this land to remain undeveloped and productive under your heirs’ care, the tax situation may make it necessary to sell or develop the land in order to pay the estate taxes.
A conservation easement that removes development and protects scenic and open space values would reflect your values and wishes, and it could reduce the total value of the land enough to resolve the estate tax situation.
Conservation easements can be donated from an estate (after the owner’s death, before the land passes to beneficiaries), but completing a conservation easement during your lifetime is more likely to allow you to fully use the income tax benefits.
Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation has helped cropland owners take a too-steep field or flood-prone acres out of production to become wildlife habitat — perhaps even an area that the public can enjoy. INHF has also accepted donations and bequests of land for which the donor’s goal is to return cropland to the prairie or wooded land it once was. Some have asked us to sell their donated field so as to help protect and restore natural land elsewhere.
If you want your family farm to always be a farm – productive and well managed for sustainability – a land protection method plus a conservation partner might help you meet that goal.
For example, Bobbie Lanz entrusted her cropland to INHF in her estate plans. INHF brought new soil-saving measures to the land with the help of a committed young tenant and a conservation lease. This place will always be known as Lanz Heritage Farm, and its crop income will help INHF protect this site and other Iowa lands each year into the future.