Whole Farm > Farmland Value Surveys
Voices of Iowa women farmland owners
"I am blessed with the opportunity to live on the land and help care for it… I am very happy that our daughter has chosen to return to the farm," shared a woman farmland owner and respondent to the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Women Landowner Survey. The survey was conducted from July through October 2021. The results are now published on the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development website. The survey is part of a multi-year project led by the extension farm management team’s women in ag program to better understand and meet the educational needs of women farmland owners. Through collaborations with the ISU Center for Agriculture Law and Taxation, Water Quality Initiative, and the Department of Economics, the project is bringing comprehensive land management information to audiences of women farmland owners.
Responses to the survey were received from 358 Iowa women farmland owners, representing 91 counties and all crop reporting districts. The team would like to thank every woman who took the time to respond to the survey or personally share their stories or concerns. The project team used survey results to pilot eight local Women Managing Farmland educational programs across the state last winter. Now the team is developing printed, online, and in-person educational opportunities and materials on the critical topics of farmland leasing, conservation and farm transition. To stay up to date on educational opportunities, visit the Women in Ag program website or sign up for the online newsletter, www.extension.iastate.edu/womeninag.
The project is partially supported through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture - Critical Agriculture Research and Education grant program and Farm Credit Services of America.
Summary of survey results
Farmland ownership: Survey results indicate 92.0% of women farmland owner respondents are in a decision-making role, among whom 51.0% have a great deal of decision-making power. Respondent’s ownership interest ranges from 3 acres to 3,000 acres with a median size of 300 acres. Nearly one-quarter (23.5%) of survey respondents are sole owners of farmland. Most co-owners are joint tenants with right of survivorship; commonly with a spouse (59.5%) or sibling (12.0%).
Women farmland owners often acquire their land in multiple ways. The most typical way is to purchase farmland from non-family (57.5%) or from family (36.6%). Responses indicated 42.5% of women inherited at least some of their farmland after someone passed away and 6.2% received at least some farmland as a gift from a living person. A majority of respondents operate their farmland (54.9%) on a full-time (22.3%) or part-time (32.7%) basis. Responses indicate there are twice as many non-operator landowners who retired from farming or have at least some farming experience (29.7%) than those who have no farming experience (15.4%).
When survey respondents selected their top three reasons for owning farmland, economic reasons were forefront on people’s minds: 1) source of current income (58.0%), 2) source of retirement income (49.0%), and 3) long-term investment (39.1%). Family or sentimental reasons was selected by almost half (44.2%) of the respondents, while preserving land for agriculture was selected by more than one-quarter (28.6%).
More than half (53.3%) of respondents characterized their farm as row crop only, while one-quarter (25.5%) characterized their farm as having livestock or poultry. Other respondents (20.4%) characterized their farm as having only pasture, timber, or Conservation Reserve Program land, or a combination of row crops with these other land uses. Only 0.8% of respondents characterized their farmland as having other uses such as an apple orchard.
Leasing practices: Just over half (51.0%) of survey respondents lease out some or all their farmland. Among these farmland owners, 73.2% lease to only one tenant, and 18.6% lease to just two tenants. A majority of owners (60.0%) have written leases with tenants. Responses indicate 64.6% of owners use fixed cash rental leases, 19.1% use flexible cash rental leases, and 16.3% use a crop share agreement. One-third (36.1%) of respondents lease their farmland to relatives, 21.1% lease to a neighbor, 15.6% lease to a friend, and 27.2% lease to someone else. Almost as many respondents charged a discounted rental rate (39.0%) as compared to a market rental rate (43.0%). There were 18.0% of respondents who were unsure how their rental rate compared to the market.
Landowner responsibilities was most often (75.3%) selected by survey respondents indicating they are interested in receiving information about the topic. Just under three-quarters of respondents indicated they were interested in receiving information about the economics of farmland ownership and return on assets, crop production costs and other expenses, determining the right rental rates for land, and general farmland lease provisions. Other popular topics were, incorporating conservation practices into leases, finding out more about their land, and negotiating farmland leases. The interests of operating owners and non-operating owners were similar in most areas. The exception is that 62.6% of operating owners and only 41.8% of non-operating owners were interested in receiving information about leasing to a beginning farmer.
Conservation practices: Nearly all (98.0%) of respondents indicated one or more conservation practices are in use on any farmland owned or co-owned. Grass waterways (68.8%) and no-till or strip-till (50.6%) were selected by over half of respondents. Other popular practices included low-till or conservation tillage (40.1%), terracing (36.6%), and cover crops (32.4%). More operating owners (40.0%) use livestock manure management practices than non-operating owners (15.1%).
For those respondents who lease out some or all their land, they indicated which conservation-related management decisions are being made primarily by their tenant. There were 82.6% of respondents indicating crop variety and crop input decisions, 65.3% of respondents indicating tillage practices, and 41.1% indicating use of conservation practices were made by tenants.
Excess requirements, restrictions and paperwork associated with government programs was of concern to more than two-thirds (68.7%) of respondents. More than half of all respondents are concerned about interference with the ability to change land management practices as conditions warrant (57.6%), low cost-share payments (54.4%), and the true value or lack of value the conservation practices provide to the environment (51.5%).
Agricultural carbon credits programs were most often (31.8%) selected by survey respondents indicating they are interested in receiving information about the topic. More than one-quarter of respondents indicated they were interested in receiving information about government conservation programs, soil erosion control, soil fertility improvement, and cover crops. Other topics of greatest interest were pasture and hay management, water quality improvement and wildlife habitat improvement. The interests of operating owners and non-operating owners were similar in many areas. Notable exceptions were that 41.1% of operating owners and only 23.0% of non-operating owners were interested in carbon credits, 33.0% of operating owners and only 21.0% of non-operating owners were interested in cover crops, and only 9.7% of operating owners indicated they were not interested in any of the topics, while 24.3% of non-operating owners indicated the same.
Transition practices: Farm transition planning deals with the future of the land. This could include choosing a successor, transferring ownership, or other actions taken during your lifetime as well as estate plans after death. Most (88.4%) of the survey respondents have a will. Most respondents also have identified a potential individual who will eventually take over the management of their farmland (70.1%), and/or an individual who will eventually take over the ownership of their farmland (85.2%).
Women farmland owners who identified a successor were twice as likely to choose a son (33.5%) as a daughter (15.9%). There were 12.0% of respondents who chose a spouse. The age of the chosen successors ranged from 1 to 96, with an average age of 41. Three-fourths of the successors were age 26 to 57.
Respondents often consulted multiple people about a transition plan for their farmland or farm business. Nearly two-thirds (62.9%) of respondents consulted an attorney about a transition plan. Half that many (33.2%) consulted an accountant or CPA. Just over one-fourth (26.0%) consulted a financial advisor. However, one in five respondents have not discussed a transition plan with anyone.
For those respondents who expect their farmland will eventually be inherited by a family member and kept in the family, they expect roughly equal possibilities that the family will operate the farmland (38.6%) or lease out the farmland (37.9%). There are more operating owners (50.0%) who expect their family members will lease the land to a tenant, than who expect their family members to operate it. For those respondents who expect their farmland will eventually be inherited by a family member and sold, 8.9% expect the farmland to be sold for agricultural purposes and 1.6% expect it will be sold for non-agricultural purposes. Very few respondents expect their farmland will be sold during their lifetime; of these 4.1% expect to sell it for agricultural purposes and 1.1% expect to sell it for non-agricultural purposes.
Lack of understanding about different farmland ownership structures and their tax implications is of concern to nearly two-thirds (64.6%) of survey respondents. Just under half of all respondents are concerned that they are not familiar with the different options for transitioning the farm to the future generations, they have a hard time figuring out a plan that treats all members of the next generation fairly, and they don’t know how to find information about business entities that may be useful.
Tax consequences of different transition options were most often (43.3%) selected by survey respondents indicating they are interested in receiving information about the topic. About one-third of respondents were interested in estate and gift tax matters (36.6%), and farmland and farm business management succession options (31.3%). Just under one-quarter of respondents selected estate planning tools such as wills and trusts (23.7%), and lifetime transfers by sale to family members (20.7%) as one of their top three interests. Other topics of greatest interest were lifetime gifting, farm family communication, and business transition tools such as LLCs. The interests of operating owners and non-operating owners were similar in most areas. Exceptions were that 27.0% of operating owners were interested in lifetime transfers by sale to family members and only 13.2% of non-operating owners were interested. Only 10.8% of operating owners indicated they were not interested in any of the topics, while 23.0% of non-operating owners indicated the same.
Educational preferences: When asked about preferred times for online or in-person educational programming, one-third of survey respondents indicated they prefer mornings (36.0%) or evenings (38.0%), both of which are slightly preferred to afternoons (26.0%). Interestingly, non-operator owners had more of a preference for mornings and operator owners had more of a preference for evenings. Responses indicated the top five ways women farmland owners would like to receive information is 1) newsletters, 2) webinars, 3) fact sheets, 4) half-day in-person educational meetings, and 5) women landowner learning circles. More operator-owners expressed interest in webinars (40.5%), half-day meetings (34.1%), and learning circles (26.0%) than did non-operator owners. Operators interested in receiving educational information are overall younger than interested non-operators. For operators, the most interest came from those 30 to 60 years old; while for non-operators, the most interest came from those above 50, including women in their 80’s and 90’s. Older owners showed a strong preference for newsletters and large font notebooks, while younger owners preferred learning circles and field days.
Landowner characteristics: The ages of the respondents ranged from 21 to 98, with the largest proportion (72.7%) between 50 and 80 years old. Most respondents (98.0%) had been married at least once. About one in five respondents (22.8%) were widowed, divorced or separated or never married. Nearly one-third (30.4%) of respondents are first generation farmland owners of the parcel they have owned the longest. Second (25.4%) and third (24.5%) generation owners each account for one-quarter of the respondents, while fourth generation or more owners accounted for on-fifth (19.7%) of survey respondents. Most (92.4%) respondents do not feel burdened by farmland ownership. For those that do feel burdened, difficulty finding a good operator, lack of relevant knowledge, and worries about risk or debt were some of their concerns.
Most (83.5%) survey respondents have off-farm income and nearly half (43.0%) of respondents reported receiving no less than 70.0% of their gross household income from off-farm activities. One-third (34.2%) received less than $49,999 in income from farming activities. Overall, the approximate gross cash income from farming before deducting expenses and taxes in 2020 mostly (81.7%) lies below $350,000, with the percentage being slightly lower than the national level of 89.0%, as reported by USDA.
Madeline Schultz, Women in Agriculture Program Manager, 515-294-0588, firstname.lastname@example.org