The Resource Stewardship Evaluation Tool (RSET) is a free program offered through National Farmers Union (NFU) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). It is available to help Iowa farmers, ranchers and land owners improve their working lands conservation efforts, and consequently improve topsoil and nutrient retention, as well as safeguard Iowa’s waterways.

Lee Tesdell is a fifth-generation farmer and innovative conservationist. His Polk County farm has been in his family for 135 years. He is a National Wildlife Federation Cover Crop Champion and uses the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to maintain riparian buffers on the property. He has also worked through EQIP to install bioreactors on his tile drainage and shares the cost of cover crops with his tenant. He manages some of his ground directly and also leases cropland.

Lee learned about RSET from his neighbor, Iowa Farmers Union President Aaron Lehman. He has had the evaluation run on two separate parcels. RSET indicated to Lee that his land is performing well on soil management. He actively employs practices to reduce erosion and was reassured to observe that those practices are having their intended impact.

But RSET also highlighted additional action that would help improve the water quality performance of the property, which has allowed Lee to have constructive conversations with his longtime tenant. RSET offers landowners a means to assess how to quantify the financial impact of conservation to land value over time. “RSET gives me a visual representation of the increasing value of my investment in my farm,” Lee said. The evaluation identified cover crops, the use of which is growing in Iowa, as a significant opportunity for better water quality performance. RSET assisted Lee in discussing the advantages of cover cropping, and how to share responsibility for implementing the practice, with the farmer leasing that parcel. The opportunity RSET presents to facilitate conversations between landlords and tenants is crucial because so much cropland is rented, and tenants often lack sufficient motivation to make changes that improve farmland value over the long term. Landlords often think of cash rent payments in terms of extra income, not as funds to re-invest in the farm, but RSET can help landlords understand that collaboration with tenants and investments in conservation practices can cause the value of the farmland to increase over time.

As Lee’s experience shows, RSET can help farmers identify the value of conservation improvements and help landowners discuss conservation goals productively with farmers who work their land. Iowa farmers and landowners interested in RSET should contact Resource Stewardship Outreach Specialist Barb Stewart at [email protected]


This material is based upon work supported by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under number 69-6114-17-015.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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