DES MOINES, Iowa - Two state lawmakers announced a bipartisan effort Tuesday to support a new initiative aimed at preserving farmland in Iowa for organic, sustainable farming.
State Representative Bobby Kaufmann (R-Wilton) and Senator Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) announced they'll be co-leading a "working group," comprised of public and private stakeholders, to look at legislative ways to assist the efforts of SILT, or the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust.
SILT announced its formation and mission last week, asking retiring farmers in the state to donate their land to the trust so that new farmers, dedicated to organic and sustainable farming, could utilize it. SILT says Iowa loses approximately 25 acres of farmland per year to development companies, who pay big money for farmland. When a retiring farmer is looking at the most profitable way to sell their land, SILT says it's hard for them to resist selling to a developer, when selling it to an organic farmer would not earn them near as much money.
But SILT hopes it can gather farmland across the state into its trust by a two-pronged approach: land donations from retiring farmers who are interested in the tax credits that come from such a donation, and purchases of farmland through funds the organization raises on its own. SILT president, Suzan Erem, says in order for her organization to continue to have funds to purchase farmland for the preservation effort, legislative action will be necessary to create public funds.
"Iowa landowners can take advantage of attractive Iowa tax credits and federal tax deductions to donate land or easements for protection," she said. "And that works for a lot of people. But to protect more land takes public support. We can't expect land rich/cash poor farmers to just donate away their retirement funds."
Representative Kaufmann says this is not a partisan or anti-agriculture effort, which is why he's thrown his support behind it.
"A lot of our farmers near cities are facing tough decisions - sell the family farm to a developer or to the next biggest farm," he said. "There is another option. Protect that land to grow food for Iowans while reimbursing our farmers for the value of the land when it moves out of commodity crops and into local food production."
Senator Bolkcom emphasized it is unlikely any legislative action on this issue will be done this year; rather, he says this working group's goal is to begin the conversation in the state, foster public awareness, and build public and private connections so that potential legislation can happen in the future.
"This is a big issue, and it might not get solved this session," he said. "But it's worth starting the discussion and seeing where it leads."