Iowa is on the brink of a shift in land ownership and a joint project between Iowa State and Drake University hopes to make sure that conservation remains a priority. A 2007 study shows most Iowa land is now owned by people in their 60s and 70s.

Neil Hamilton, with Drake’s Agricultural Law Center, says as that land changes hands, it’s likely more land will be leased out instead of farmed by the owners. "Questions about land tenure and relationships between owners and tenants and how we deal with land stewardship have been around for a number of years, but will become more important in the future," Hamilton said.

The project will study current farm lease agreements to develop model leases which would promote conservation and stewardship of the land. "We don’t know a great deal about the nature of the tenancy relations that are used, the communication that may happen between owners and tenants and others about things like soil conservation," Hamilton said.

The researchers say some lease agreements now aren’t even put down in writing and that will become impractical in the future. The 2007 ISU study showed that 55% of Iowa farmland is owned by people over 65, while 28% is owned by those over 75.