While the focus of the resources on this site focus on encouraging sustainable practices, conservation provisions remain a fundamental part of a farm lease. Conservation topics of concern will vary from one landowner to the next, and it is important to specifically address any practices that will be required or prohibited.

There are is almost no end to the variations of conservation provisions you could have in your lease.  Therefore, the list below should not be considered exhaustive.  Further, many of the provisions provided below do not include in-depth explanations.  For more information on the benefits and implementation of specific conservation practices review the links in Conservation Practices in publications and other resources .

Conservation Plans

One method of including conservation practices in a lease is to incorporate a conservation plan.  Conservation plans are sometimes required for participation in certain farm programs, but NRCS staff are available to assist any landowner wishing to develop a plan.  These plans can be used to address a number of conservation concerns, including soil erosion, nutrient depletion, pollution from runoff, and water use and control.  There is no set plan that works for every piece of land, but rather a conservation plan should be based on the circumstances of the land and the farm operation.  It can best be utilized when developed in consultation with NRCS staff and the input of both landowner and tenant.  The conservation plan can then be attached to the lease agreement.

Example:

The Landlord and Tenant agree to prepare and comply with a Conservation Plan under the guidance of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) personnel.  This plan shall include conservation practices including but not limited to crop rotation, cover crops, drainage management, soil conservation, soil fertility, waste management, weed and pest control, and wildlife habitat management.  The parties shall meet to review and, if necessary, update the conservation plan every ______  year(s).

Land Use Provisions

As discussed in “Chapter Four, Farm Leases, Sustainability, and the Law,” tenants are granted the right to use the land for agricultural purposes, and perhaps other purposes, as they see fit, unless the landowner places reservations on that right.  You may want to consider doing this in relation to how certain pieces of land can be used, particularly if you don’t have a conservation plan addressing land use.  Land use provisions can include, but are not limited to, specifying the fields that are available for cultivation, the crops that can be planted on cultivated fields, the maximum number of acres planted to a specific crop, or the crop rotations the tenant is expected to follow.

For example, a table such as this could be included in a long-term lease to establish specific crop rotations.  The use of such a provision is not common, and it could also be addressed in a conservation plan.  The completion of such a provision needs to be done in close cooperation with the tenant.

Field      _______ _______ _______ _______ _______
Year 1   _______ _______ _______ _______ _______
Year 2   _______ _______ _______ _______ _______
Year 3   _______ _______ _______ _______ _______
Year 4   _______ _______ _______ _______ _______
Year 5   _______ _______ _______ _______ _______
Year 6   _______ _______ _______ _______ _______

Establishing Thresholds and Monitoring

Rather than mandate specific practices, conservation provisions can simply require certain thresholds be maintained or conservation objectives achieved.  Such thresholds could include the testing and maintenance of crop nutrient levels or limiting soil loss to a designated amount.  These provisions need to set forth not only the acceptable levels, but also the methods used for monitoring and remedial measures if the thresholds are not maintained or achieved.

This helps ensure the landowner’s concerns are addressed while providing flexibility to the tenant.  It is, however, important that a lease ensure the methods used to meet the objectives do not harm the sustainability of the operation in other aspects.  For example, requiring the testing and maintenance of nutrient levels in the soil might be supplemented by provisions limiting the manner in which nutrients are applied to achieve the desired levels.

Examples of Specific Conservation Provisions

The inclusion of provisions relating to specific practices can also be useful, particularly where a landowner has special concerns.  Some of the issues might also be addressed in a conservation plan, discussed above, or in land use provisions that establish specific crop rotations or limit the amount of acreage for row crop production.

Additional Resources:

Information on the benefits of specific practices, how to implement them, and possible sources of financial and technical assistance can be found by contacting your NRCS Service Center or University Extension Office.  There are online sources available through the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and Iowa NRCS has sources on a variety of conservation practices.

Other lists of conservation provisions can be found at Iowa State University Extension’s Lease Supplement for Use in Obtaining Conservation Practices and Controlling Soil Loss and the Conservation Connect Leasing Checklist.

The provisions below are examples of those typically found in agricultural form leases.  As can be seen these provisions often provide general guidelines and rely heavily on compliance with conservation laws and environmental regulations.  These do play an important role in protecting the land from degradation, as well as the landowner from liability.  However, as stated in the previous chapter, a reliance on incorporating conservation laws and regulations may not go far enough in ensuring the sustainability of the property.

Typical Conservation Provisions:

  • To keep the lease premises neat and orderly.
  • To prevent noxious weeds from going to seed on said premises and to destroy the same and keep the weeds and grass cut.
  • To prevent all unnecessary waste, loss, and/or damage to the property of the landlord.
  • To keep the buildings, fences, and other improvements in good repair and condition as they are when the Tenant takes possession or in as good repair and condition as they may be put by the Landlord during the term of the lease – ordinary wear, loss by fire, or unavoidable destruction excepted.
  • To comply with pollution control and environmental protection requirements as required by local, state, and federal agencies.
  • To implement water conservation and soil erosion control practices to comply with the soil loss standards mandated by local, state, and federal agencies.
  • To generally follow Natural Resource Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency recommendations and to maintain all other requirements necessary to qualify current and future farm operators to participate in federal farm programs.
  • To haul and spread manure on appropriate fields at times and in quantities consistent with environmental protection requirements.
  • To take proper care of all trees, vines, and shrubs, and to prevent injury to the same.
  • Not to plow permanent pasture or meadowland.
  • Not to remove cornstalks, straw, or other crop residues grown upon the farm.

In addition, some provisions, such as those regarding a neat and orderly appearance and controlling weeds, may result in unnecessary herbicide application, destruction of wildlife habitat, or other non-sustainable practices in order to present a facade of a well-functioning farm.

The last provision listed above deserves special mention due to the potential increase in the value of crop residue.  As mentioned in the previous chapter, Iowa has adopted a statute giving tenant’s control of any crop residue left after harvest, unless the parties have a written agreement showing a different intent.

The provisions that follow provide additional, and perhaps alternative, options.  While they do sometimes rely on government standards and regulations, they also provide more specifics regarding certain practices.  It is important to reiterate that the use of these provisions does not necessarily ensure sustainability, there are additional conservation concerns that can be addressed, and some of the provisions will not apply to all farm operations.  Rather, the use of specific conservation provisions depend on the landowner’s values and concerns, as well as the abilities and constraints of the tenant.

Sample Conservation Provisions:

Conservation in General:

  • The Tenant will keep the lease premises neat and orderly.  The Landlord and Tenant recognize the possibility of weeds as the result of certain practices that promote the conservation and long-term productivity of the lease premises and will take this into account regarding the appearance of the farm.
  • The Tenant will will leave a vegetative buffer _______ feet from any watercourse, stream, or river.
  • Waterways removed by plowing, use of chemicals or other means shall be replaced at the tenant’s expense.
  • Tenant agrees to implement a haying/ grazing plan approved by NRCS or landowner.

Soil Conservation:

  • Tenant shall clip waterways as necessary for maintenance of soil conservation practices.
  • The Tenant will employ contour farming.
  • The Tenant will employ strip cropping.
  • No-till shall be used on designated fields.
  • A cover crop shall be seeded on corn ground harvested for silage.
  • Corn and soybean fields shall have sufficient ground cover at planting time to control erosion within soil loss limits set under the conservation plan.
  • Erosion shall be controlled in farm pond watersheds.

Crop Residue:

  • The Tenant will not burn or remove any crop residue, including but not limited to cornstalks, corncobs, leaves, straw, stubble, and stover, without the written consent of the Landlord.
  • If any fieldwork is done in the fall, at least two-thirds of the soil will be left covered with crop residue.

Nutrient Management:

  • The Tenant will haul and spread all manure on appropriate fields at times and in quantities consistent with environmental protection requirements.  At no time shall manure be spread on frozen ground or between the dates of ________________ and ________________.
  • A cover crop shall be seeded on corn ground harvested for silage.
  • No fall tillage should occur on soybean ground.
  • Crop rotation shall be followed as selected by the landlord on designated field(s).
  • Tenant agrees to test soil for residual nitrogen and phosphorus.
  • Tenant will figure credits for manure and previous legume crops before applying additional nutrients.

Pest Management:

  • The Tenant will use mechanical and non-chemical means of control as the primary methods of controlling weeds on crop ground.
  • Tenant agrees to minimize use of herbicides by employing integrated weed strategies as the primary means of weed control.
  • Tenant agrees to minimize use of insecticides by employing pest management strategies as primary means of pest control.
  • The Tenant will mow road ditches and field edges in accordance with local, state, and federal law and will not mow ditches, field edges, grass waterways, set-aside acres, and other areas of vegetation until after the nesting period for game birds and songbirds has passed.

Livestock:

  • The Tenant shall not establish or maintain any commercial feedlot, which is defined for the purposes of this Lease as a confined area or facility within which the land is not grazed or cropped at least annually, and which is used primarily to receive and hold livestock that has been raised off the Premises.
  • The Tenant shall not allow livestock access to surface water, including rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds, other than those constructed for the purpose of livestock watering.
  • Tenant agrees to implement a haying/ grazing plan approved by NRCS or landowner.

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