Bill to limit new conservation land gains speed

By: - February 16, 2022 6:30 pm

The Des Moines River at Dolliver State Park near Fort Dodge. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Young Iowa farmers need an advantage to buy farmland — especially pasture land — over government entities that would purchase it for public parks, some Republicans in the Iowa Senate argued Wednesday.

“I think we need to make sure that Iowa continues to be an agricultural state, where these young folks have an opportunity to buy and purchase property and not compete with their own government,” Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan, said in a Natural Resources and Environment committee meeting.

That committee voted 7-5 to recommend Senate Study Bill 3134 for passage by the full Senate.

The bill limits county conservation boards and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to spending between 60% and 80% of the full value of timber, pasture and cropland. High-quality cropland would require the biggest discount, despite Republicans’ focus in the committee meeting on lower-quality timber and pasture.

“If conservation is truly the reason that a person wants to put land into the state of Iowa, they can still do that,” Zumbach said.

No organization has declared support for the bill — which would also limit the state tax breaks for those who donate their land or sell it for less than it’s worth — and Democrats said they have been inundated with messages and calls from constituents who oppose the bill.

“We could listen to the people who are telling us this is a bad idea and vote it down,” said Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids. “Farmers don’t want this. They want the freedom to be able to sell their property to who they want to at a fair market price, and I would also note that this will hurt public conservation, clean water, hunting, fishing and other public recreation.”

A subcommittee advanced the bill last week over the wishes of numerous landowners, conservationists and county officials who spoke against it. A similar, more-restrictive proposal in 2019 did not make it out of subcommittee.

Committee member Sen. Jeff Taylor, R-Sioux Center, who proposed separate legislation to give farmers more control over their land that might be threatened by eminent domain, said the percentage limitations of the bill might need to be adjusted, but that young farmers need more opportunities to buy land.

“I do understand some of the concerns that are being raised,” Taylor said, “and I don’t want to be dismissive of those, but on the other hand, what I’m not seeing in those hundreds of computer-generated emails, I’m not seeing any recognition that this is a genuine problem for farmers in the state of Iowa, and I think we need to do something to restore that balance.”

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.

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