Published Jan 10, 2014

Iowa’s Century Farms Program: How can it help farm transfer? Stewardship?

By Teresa Opheim
Iowa's Century Farms program: Does it discourage transfer of farmland?

Iowa’s Century Farms program: Does it discourage transfer of farmland?

Commentary from Helen Gunderson, the 2013 winner of PFI’s Farmland Owner Award:

I have been doing a little reflecting on Iowa’s award program for what are called “Century Farms.” The farm where my grandparents lived has been a Century Farm since 1978 and is owned by my brother. Understandably, my family has been quite proud of that award.

Here is some of the description of the program. “Since the land of Iowa was opened up to settlers in 1833, agriculture has been the heart of Iowa. The family farm represents the traditions and heritage upon which our State was built. Today, those individuals and families, who followed in the footsteps of their ancestors, continue to produce crops and livestock on that same land.”

I wonder: Does the award program encourage families–especially those who live hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away and who have never lived on the land or now have little connection to the land–to hang onto the property without asking questions about how it is farmed? Without selling or renting it to tenants who would implement practices more friendly to the environment, economy, and rural communities?

What programs could be initiated to help some of these landowners transfer their land to new owners without the current owners feeling they were losing their rural footings and without them taking a huge hit for capital gains taxes?

If there can be state tax incentives for renting to a beginning farmer, could there not be tax incentives for selling land within prescribed criteria?