The Sustainable Agricultural Land Tenure Initiative recently examined the relationship between climate extremes and land tenure arrangements. The project looked both at how land tenure trends and arrangements may contribute to climate change and may make land more vulnerable to climate extremes as well as how land tenure arrangements, particularly leases, can help mitigate and adapt to extreme climatic events.  January 30, 2015 press release. This research was funded by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. A report summary of this research is available on their website.

Farmers and Landowners in the face of 2012-2014 Extreme Weather

Rented farm ground in Iowa is threatened by extreme weather events. As these weather patterns continue on and become even more severe as predicted, it is in Iowa’s interest to develop sociological, legal, and policy strategies that will bring non-operator landowners (NOLOs) and farmers together as partners, in order to combat the damage being done by these extreme weather events. This report is a comprehensive analysis on farmer and landowner perceptions of climate change and how these changes impact tenure agreements.

Provisions for Specific Conservation Practices

Many of the provisions included here are found elsewhere in the “Landowners Guide to Sustainable Farm Leasing.” These provisions may require conservation practices with widely recognized on-farm conservation benefits. Here, we’ve provided explanations for how these provisions may encourage or require practices that address adaptation and mitigation.

Soil disturbance and the resulting release of carbon is one of the most significant contributors to climate change from agriculture. Practices that limit tillage keep carbon in the ground and actually sequester carbon as the plants pull carbon from the air. Below are provisions that limit tillage to varying degrees depending on the circumstances of the landowner and farmer.

No-till shall be used on designated fields.

No fall tillage should occur on soybean ground.

If any fieldwork is done in the fall, at least two-thirds of the soil will be left covered with crop residue.

Residue, or the portion of the plant left on the ground after harvest, provides cover and nutrients to the soil below. This can help retain carbon as well as decrease erosion during rain events.

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.

Diversification can improve soil health as well as protect against pests that may be able to thrive under new climatic conditions. The completion of such a provision needs to be done in close cooperation with the tenant.

Tenant shall plant crops in accordance with the following table:

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

Provisions Addressing Management Decision Making

In addition to requiring or incentivizing specific conservation practices, landowners and farmers, can address climate extremes through provisions that provide transparency in farm management decision making and off-set factors that may encourage risk-taking in relation to climate extremes.

Its critical for the landowner and tenant to at least understand the priorities, capabilities, and limitations of the other party. Provisions that require communication can help spur conversations about climate change and extreme climate events and aid in the development of plans for adapting and mitigating climate change.

The Landlord and Tenant agree to conduct joint inspections of the Premises on an _______ basis at minimum. This provision shall not be construed as limiting the Landlord’s right to enter the property under other sections of this lease. At the time of inspection the parties shall review and, if need be, update the established conservation plan and agree on major repairs and improvements.

It’s important for landowners to understand the types of crop insurance available and their potential impact on farm practices that could exacerbate climate change or make the land more vulnerable to extreme climatic events. This provision require a tenant to inform the landowner of the types of insurance policies they have. It is then up to the landowner to understand the potential side effects of such policies and address concerns with the tenant.

Tenant shall provide Landowner with a report of all crop insurance and other risk management policies in which the leased property is enrolled.

Tenant shall notify Landowner of any crop insurance claims or claims from other risk management policies within 30 days of making such a claim.

Crop Insurance Considerations for Non-Operating Landowners in the Face of Extreme Weather

Farmers have a number of tools to use in managing agricultural risk. This summary examines the relationship between one of those tools—crop insurance—and extreme weather. The paper focuses on how non-operating landowners (NOLs) might consider the relationship between crop insurance and conservation practices on their farms. Full paper.

Annotated site map for USDA resources and information on climate change and agriculture

Climate change presents real threats to U.S. agricultural production, forest resources, and rural economies. These threats have significant implications not just for farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners, but for all Americans. Land managers across the country are already feeling the pressures of a changing climate and its effects on weather. As these risks continue and amplify, producers will be faced with the challenges of adapting. This resource is a site map of the webpages and resources offered by USDA. We are in the process of adding all of the content to one page, so users can easily scan all of what USDA has to offer.

Extreme Weather Interview Summaries: 18 farmers and non-operating landowners

Eighteen interviews with NOLs, owner operators, tenant farmers, farm management companies, and a public entity were conducted. Interviewees were identified and recruited through existing networks with professionals and agencies including the Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Service Agency (FSA), WFAN, several Iowa county Farm Bureaus, and Practical Farmers of Iowa. Interviews were done over the phone, recorded, transcribed, and evaluated to identify themes and issues created by extreme weather and the strategies farmers and landowners are developing to address the ensuing conservation challenges. This resource includes summaries of these interviews.