Land Tenure and Conservation in Agriculture: Creating Incentives for Landowners

Agricultural land management decisions are situated within a complex and interconnected system, influenced by a suite of social and economic factors, many of which are difficult to control. Landowners can, but often don’t, take it upon themselves to drive stewardship of their land. This report focuses on land ownership and tenure as levers to increase conservation and rebuild soil health in the Midwest, where over 50% of the agricultural land is leased.

Through the support of the Walton Family Foundation, in summer 2019 Delta Institute released our report, Land Tenure and Conservation in Agriculture: Creating Incentives for Landowners. This report explores the network of stakeholders, policies, and institutions through which soil health can be linked to the value of the land and serve as an incentive to change management of that land. Although soil health and management practices are not currently explicitly integrated into the land valuation system, we identify opportunities where such linkages can be created and utilized to rebuild soil health.

We encourage you to explore the current land valuation system, read about land management through leasing and conservation inclusion, utilize our farmland leasing toolkit for land managers, and make your voice heard through advocacy and action to expand conservation leasing in agriculture. Click here to download the full report with all of these resources.

The strategies proposed focus on two aspects, technical and social – the need for better and more data to allow integration of soil health into land transactions and overcoming significant cultural barriers to shift the status quo among local practitioners. This report compiles a set of resources that may be taken in concert or used separately by a variety of stakeholders to advance soil health and agricultural conservation practices on farmland in the Midwest and beyond. It examines how lease agreements can be used, in particular by institutional landowners, to ensure conservation is implemented by the farmers who lease the land. This report includes an inventory of public land leased for farming in Illinois and a synthesis of how it is managed. The inventory informed the suite of tools to enable integration of conservation into farm leases that include: models for governance, capacity building, data tracking and evaluation, and a “Conservation” lease framework, which can be adopted by institutional landowners as well as on privately held land.

If you are an individual landowner interested in conservation on your rented farmland, Land Stewardship Project’s Conservation Lease Toolkit has resources for you, including lease examples, frequently asked legal questions, and information on soil health and practices.

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