Give Permanent Incentive for Donated Conservation Easements

By Jacobson, Timothy S | Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque), July 13, 2014 | Go to article overview

Give Permanent Incentive for Donated Conservation Easements


Jacobson, Timothy S, Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque)


The Dust Bowl years of the 1930s forcefully bonked our Driftless Area farmer-ancestors over the head in demonstrating how vulnerable the ruggedly beautiful landscape is to loss of good soil through erosion. Fortunately, the Coon Creek Watershed led as our nation's first soil conservation program, and we demonstrated to the rest of the country how to better care for precious farmland.

Today, with overwhelming economic pressures on farmers driven largely by spiking corn and soybean prices coupled with a high percentage of absentee landowners, the lessons of the past century sometimes are forgotten, and our fragile landscape again is put at risk. Ephemeral farmland conservation programs are not sufficient, by themselves, to assist farmers in protecting the long-term viability of our food production capabilities.

One of the most valuable tools we have today to ensure good stewardship of our fields, pastures and forests is a permanent, voluntary conservation easement that land trusts like Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation, Mississippi Valley Conservancy, and Driftless Area Land Conservancy can work out with private landowners in this tri-state region.

But many farmers cannot afford to relinquish the future development potential of their farmland without enhanced income tax incentives, which help tip the balance toward more sustainable farming practices. We've had such incentives in place since 2006 to great effect.

Unfortunately, Congress allowed the incentive legislation to expire no less than four times over the past seven years, only to be renewed retroactively the following year in two-year increments.

This seesawing of legislation inhibits the ability of farmers to engage in long-term planning for their land. The incentive has been gone since Jan. 1 and will stay that way unless Congress acts.

Without an incentive in place and assured, many of the gifts of conservation easements the incentives were intended to promote will simply not take place. The time to plan and execute the gifts will have already passed by. Good farmland may get sold off and abused when otherwise it could have been conserved. …

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