Lanz Heritage Farm
Green. The color has overtaken four steeply sloped areas on the Lanz property — areas that had formerly been cropped and are now enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) — as prairie grasses and wildflowers have begun to sprout.
Seeded with a diverse mix of prairie in 2013, the CRP areas are in the establishment phase. Wildflowers, such as Blazing stars and Compass plants, are yet to come. But come they will, adding more natural diversity to a formerly monoculture row cropped hillside. There is still much to be done on this project. But the process is beautiful.
A gift with potential
Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation received the 192 acres of land in 2010 through an unrestricted bequest from the late Bobbie Lanz of Omaha, a former Iowan. The gift was a surprise. Bobbie was not a member of INHF, nor was there any record of any INHF staff having ever been in contact with her. INHF was told, however, that Bobbie admired our work.
According to Bobbie’s will, INHF could have sold the land. Selling would have certainly been the easiest option, providing cash and releasing INHF from the farm management. But we saw the potential in this gift, a gift that was entrusted to us. Not only was there an opportunity to showcase the marriage of conservation and farming and the win-win situation that results from such a union, but the farmland would also provide INHF with a source of income for future projects. Our mission is to protect Iowa’s land, water and wildlife, and we believed it was important to care for the land and not just treat it as a liquid asset.
“The implementation of conservation-minded agricultural practices with the restoration of habitat on this property represents what we want to see on a large scale across Iowa’s landscape,” said Joe McGovern, INHF president. “This is a net gain for conservation that I believe is consistent with Bobbie Lanz’s wishes and reaffirms INHF’s mission to protect and restore Iowa’s land water, and wildlife.”
Land management efforts
To evaluate the condition of the property, Erin Van Waus, land stewardship director at INHF, visited the site with Curt Donahue, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) district conservationist, and Ross Langmaid, the tenant who had been farming the land. INHF then created a management plan based on the NRCS’ observations, LiDAR maps that help identify potential areas of erosion and Ross’ own ideas for improvements to the land. Together they planned to restore grassed waterways and raise the land to its optimal level of both agricultural production and conservation.
“The land needed some tender loving care to reduce erosion and increase the species diversity of the property,” Erin said. “This project shows, though, that we can improve the land for farming and for conservation simultaneously. As a farmer’s daughter from northwest Iowa, I find it very gratifying to show that we don’t have to choose one or the other.”
With the introduction of conservation practices, the cropped areas will benefit from better soil retention. The stream that runs through the property will be permanently buffered and receive less runoff, and the native species that call the land home will have more opportunity to thrive.
Ross, a young farmer who began farming the property five years ago, visits the land at least weekly and helps manage the weeds and the prairie planting to help native flowers and grasses get established. Ross has been involved since the project’s early planning phase. When INHF first visited the property, it was Ross who pointed out the areas that he believed should be enrolled in CRP.
“Because of the rolling nature of the land, certain areas that were being farmed were losing topsoil due to runoff,” Ross said. “Something needed to be done to preserve the ground. Now that the CRP is in place, I’ve already seen soil retention improvement on the land. It’s only going to get better.”
Forty-three acres of the steepest land on the hilly property were taken out of crop production and planted to prairie. INHF worked with the NRCS and contractors in central Iowa to design a local ecotype prairie seed mix and then plant the seed. Langmaid also donated his time and expertise to help repair eroded areas as well as seed waterways.
The NRCS office has reported that, once the CRP planting is established, erosion will be reduced to just .4 tons of soil per acre, down from 4.5 to 7.1 tons per acre before the implementation of soil-saving practices. Reduced erosion leads directly to improvements in water quality of the property’s stream, which feeds into the South Skunk River, a primary tributary to the Mississippi River. The addition of more plant species to the land also increases the available habitat for grassland birds, mammals and insects that depend on the prairie ecosystem.
Introducing conservation practices to the property has had almost no impact on the land’s overall income — thanks in part to the CRP program. Since the 43 acres of least suitable land for agriculture are no longer cropped, Ross can now focus on farming the most productive areas of the property.
More improvements planned
The Lanz project is in the early stages of restoration, and there is still more to be done. Looking forward, INHF will continue to reduce erosion on the land and foster the prairie species that have taken root. Future work will include an extension of the buffer along the stream to slow and filter water runoff, and this fall INHF will work with Ross to implement cover crops, adding another layer of protection on the productive land.
This gift of land is a perpetual legacy for Bobbie Lanz that will continue to have impact into the future — protecting wildlife habitat, providing open space, improving water quality and soil health and promoting sustainable agriculture.
Note: While INHF is honored to receive gifts and we enjoy surprises, we’d love to talk with you if you have included INHF in your will for a gift of land so that we can ensure that your gift is used in a way that best aligns with your wishes. Please contact Cheri Grauer, INHF major gifts steward, at 515-288-1846.