Landowners matter too: Accelerating adoption of in-field and edge-of-field nutrient reduction practices through better-engaged landowners

Sep 2022


The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy calls for vast increases in conservation practice use to reduce nutrient loads from non-point sources. Funding for working lands programs has exceeded that for land retirement programs and currently exceeds $30 billion. However, the majority of Iowa’s waterways continue to have water quality impairments.

Non-operating landowners (NOLs) are a critical link to the implementation of conservation practices. From 1982 to 2017, the percentage of Iowa farmland owned by full-time Iowa residents declined from 94% to 80%, hindering conservation practices as short-term tenants may be less willing to invest in conservation practices. Additionally, 53% of Iowa farmland is rented, and NOLs own 57% of rented land, which magnifies the knowledge gap about conservation practice benefits and importance.


This project will provide a comprehensive assessment of Iowa landowners’ views on and barriers to adopting key in-field and edge-of-field practices to achieve nutrient reduction goals. Researchers will study the potential for economic incentives to enhance adoption of nutrient management practices and result in win-win situations for landowners and tenants.

More specifically, the project's four major objectives are to:

  • quantify actual nutrient reduction practice adoption levels and changes over time using a statistically representative survey of Iowa landowners;
  • identify the most effective and preferred ways to reach operating landowners and NOLs to incentivize nutrient reduction practice implementation;
  • gauge landowner reactions to and interest in policy proposals such as climate-smart agriculture, carbon credits and the Conservation Easement Tax Credit; and
  • evaluate the effects of social learning and wildlife co-benefits of nutrient reduction practices on landowner attitudes and behavior.


The 2022 Iowa Farmland Ownership and Tenure Survey will provide evidence on nutrient reduction practices, carbon credits programs, proposed tax credit for conservation easements, conservation information needs and respondents' preferred ways to receive information and knowledge of conservation efforts.