June 2023

Iowa Farmland Ownership and Tenure Survey 1982–2022: a forty-year perspective

Farmland Ownership and Tenure in Iowa 1982–2022: A Forty-Year Perspective provides a critical update to the Iowa Farmland Ownership and Tenure survey series and a forty-year, statistically representative perspective (1982 to present) on many aspects of land ownership, tenure, acquisition, and transitions in Iowa, as well as of characteristics of landowners. The purpose of the study is to document the current situation with respect to Iowa farmland. In addition, this study compares and contrasts the current situation with that found in earlier studies since 1982.

The Iowa Farmland Ownership and Tenure survey started in the 1940s, and since 1989, it has been conducted every five years as mandated by Iowa Code. This survey series is the first of its kind in the nation and the only consistent information on the ownership, tenure, and transitions of farmland at the state level.

The 2022 survey is based on a random sample of 40-acre tracts of farmland. Landowners of these tracts were interviewed via telephone with a response rate of 45%. The sampling design is such that the survey results presented in this study are statistically representative of all farmland and all landowners in Iowa as of July 1, 2022.

The 2022 survey revealed many policy-relevant trends in the ownership, tenancy, and transition of farmland as well as characteristics of farmland owners. Highlights from the full report include:

  • Eighty-four percent of Iowa farmland is owned free of debt, which represents a significant increase from 62% in 1982 and a further hike from 82% in 2017.
  • Two-thirds of Iowa farmland is owned by people 65 years or above and 37% of farmland is owned by people aged 75 and above. In contrast, only 29% percent of Iowa farmland was owned by people 65 years or above in 1982.
  • Forty-six percent of farmland is owned by women, and 13% is owned by female landowners over 80 of age.
  • Fifty-eight percent of farmland is leased (Table 1), with the majority of farmland leases being cash rental arrangements. In particular, the share of Iowa farmland rented out via fixed or flexible cash rental contracts is at a record high level of 51%, of which fixed cash rent was the most popular lease covering 42% of Iowa farmland, and another nine percent via flexible cash rental contracts
  • Thirty-seven percent of Iowa farmland is primarily owned for family or sentimental reasons, which represents a significant increase from 29% in 2017.
  • There is a continuous shift away from sole ownership and joint tenancy to trusts, corporations, and LLCs, which accounted for 23%, 6%, and 9%of the land, respectively, in July 2022.
  • Fifty-five percent of Iowa farmland is owned by someone who does not currently farm, of which 53% of the non-farming owners do not have farming experience.
  • Twenty percent of Iowa farmland is owned by someone who is not an Iowa resident, which increased from 13% in 2017. Of the non-resident landowners, 70% do not have farming experience.
  • Cover crops are grown on seven percent of Iowa farmland, which represents a significant jump from four percent of farmland in 2017, and are utilized by seven percent of landowners. The use of no-till inched up to 30% of acres in 2022 from 27% in 2017.
  • Two percent of Iowa landowners have already participated in a carbon credits program and another three percent are considering carbon opportunities.
  • Three of every four landowners in Iowa are interested in selling land to beginning farmers when incentivized with federal and state tax credits. At the same time, over half of Iowa landowners expressed concerns about difficulty finding quality beginning farmers as well as concerns about beginning farmers’ ability to pay top prices.

The results of this survey have significant implications for when and how farmland is intended to be transferred to the next generation. Willing or giving the land to family remained the most popular method of intended land transfer, accounting for 47% of all acres of Iowa farmland. The second-most popular intended method of land transfer was putting it into a trust or in a business entity, covering 26% or 12% of land, respectively. Only four percent of Iowa farmland was intended to be sold to a non-family member. When asked about what factors will prompt a landowner to sell some of their farmland, 80% of the land is owned by someone not planning to sell. In other words, we will continue to see a tight farmland supply.

The agricultural economy in Iowa and the Midwest faces exciting opportunities and interesting challenges. On the one hand, higher interest rates, substantially higher farmland prices, and concerns over investor demand significantly raise barriers to land access. On the other hand, the value of Iowa farmland is increasingly regarded as critical not only for food security, but also for a low-carbon, clean-energy future. This study and previous versions of the Iowa Farmland Ownership and Tenure Surveys provide a unique long-term perspective for us to better understand trends in farmland ownership, tenancy, and transition in Iowa, arguably one of the most important agricultural states in the world.

The full report is available from the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development website.


Jingyi Tong, Ph.D. student, Department of Economics, Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, Iowa State University, jitong@iastate.edu
Wendong Zhang, extension economist, wendongz@cornell.edu


Jingyi Tong

Ph. D. student, Department of Economics
Center for Agricultural and Rural Development
Iowa State University


Wendong Zhang

extension economist
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