Land Tenure and Nutrient Management Practices: Identifying Economic Barriers and Incentives for Landowners and Tenants to Meet Growing Soil and Water Conservation Needs

Aug 2016


Agricultural nutrient runoff and farmers’ adoption of conservation practices have become a hotly debated topic across the Corn Belt. With almost half of the acres leased in the Midwest, and the majority of those from non-operator landowners, it is important to investigate how tenants and landowners make conservation practice decisions. It’s also important to explore what economic and legal incentives are necessary to achieve greater adoption.


The overall goal of this project is to enhance adoption of nutrient management practices and result in win-win situations for landowners and tenants.


Two statewide surveys will be conducted to examine the economic incentives of adoption. A special section on land tenure and conservation will be added to the state-mandated Iowa Farmland Ownership and Tenure survey. This statewide survey has been conducted by phone every five years from 1982 through 2012. Second, a similar but separate survey will be conducted among tenants in Iowa.

Project Updates

Note: Project reports published on the INRC website are often revised from researchers' original reports to increase consistency.

December 2018


The team has worked closely with ISU Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology staff to conduct the land ownership survey. When the data collection process was completed, valid responses were received from more than 500 landowners, yielding a 60 percent response rate for the statewide telephone survey.

The key messages we want to share about this research:

  • More attention and research is needed to examine how land tenure affects conservation decisions. About 53% percent of Iowa farmland is leased, with the majority of farmland leases being cash rental arrangements
  • Cover crops are grown on approximately four percent of Iowa farmland, while no-till is currently used on 27 percent of acres.
  • About 20 percent of farmland owners expressed willingness to pay a portion of planting costs to encourage more adoption of conservation practices on the land they own.

Eight presentations were given on this project at the time of the final report.

Find additional details in the 2017 Iowa Farmland Ownership and Tenure Survey report and video, at: