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In relation to farmland and agricultural operations, government efforts to preserve Iowa’s soil, water, and other natural resources relies, for the most part, on financial incentives and technical assistance. There are a variety of local, state, and federal programs designed to encourage the adoption of conservation practices and improvements by Iowa’s landowners and farmers.
These programs address a variety of conservation issues, create varying legal responsibilities for landowners and farm operators, and often have different eligibility requirements. The categories below provide a brief overview of existing programs and provide links to additional resources and contact information for each program.
Programs by Type of Assistance Provided
Cost-share and Financial Incentives
Many conservation programs, at the local, state, and federal level, provide cost-share assistance. This means the government entity pays for a portion, or perhaps, depending on the program, the complete cost of establishing conservation improvements and practices. Programs, such as the Conservation Stewardship Program, provide payments for environmental services received from ongoing conservation practices.
These programs have a variety of eligibility requirements and many require agreements from recipients to maintain the conservation practices for a set period of time.
- Easements and Leases
Some conservation programs pay landowners for certain rights in the property. This can be in the form of an easement or a lease on the property. Both methods often place limitations on the landowners use, such as limiting cultivation for row crop production or development on the subject property. The purpose of these arrangements vary, but they usually seek to preserve a resource or specific type of landscape, such as wildlife habitat, grasslands, wetlands, or agricultural land.
An easement is typically permanent and will continue when sold while a lease will expire after a set time. Landowners typically retain the ability to use the property for limited purposes, such as recreation or perhaps low-impact farm practices, as well as the ability to exclude access to the public. Restoration with cost-sharing is often included in this type of program.
- Low and No-Interest Loans
Loans for conservation practices and improvements are available for landowners and farm operators when other programs aren't available, don't cover all of the costs, or the individual simply doesn't wish to use them. Both low-interest and no-interest loans are available, though they often have different purposes, eligibility requirements, and limitations. Such loans often require an agreement establishing a set period of time the borrower agrees to maintain the practices or improvements.
- Tax Incentives
Tax incentives are available for certain conservation expenses and participation in conservation programs. Tax deductions for federal and state income tax may be available for conservation expenses depending on the individual's participation in the farm operation. Iowa also has property tax exemption programs for landowners willing to enter all or part of their land into a Forest Reserve or a Natural Habitat Reserve. These programs limit the income that can be received from land that is designated as reserve.
- Technical Assistance
Local, state, and federal agencies are also excellent, and usually, free sources of conservation know-how. Technical assistance can consist of providing information on construction of conservation improvements, implementation of best management practices, and development of conservation plans for a variety of operations.