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Over 1,900 acres of crown jewel Garst family farm set for August auction

The land is first-of-its-kind in a soil conservation easement.

Interest is growing in a historic family farm described as a “crown jewel” by Peoples Company and Community Insurance Agency. The eight parcels in Coon Rapids, Iowa, that are up for auction on August 17 have a lot working in their favor.

The land is being sold by the agriculturally innovative Garst family, who famously hosted Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev during the Cold War in 1959.

Long-term soil conservation practices have been implemented over decades on the land parcels going to auction. They include no-till practices in place since the 1980s, the introduction of cover crops in 2013, terraces, buffer strips, terraces, waterways, contour strips, and headlands.

These investments have led to growth in crop yields, a rich soil that reduces problems related to compaction and abundant water retention that is superior to other farms in the area.

“These farms are doing better than county averages on yield,” says Liz Garst, granddaughter of Roswell Garst and the Family Business Manager. “I think these farms are hardened for the future and productive because of soil health. But our tenant, George Johnston, also has contributed to our increasing yields through his good farming practices.”

Long-term farm operator Johnston says the farms are as good as it gets in the area.

The Auction

“The farmland market is on fire right now,” Steve Bruere, President of Peoples Company, says. “Farmers have been aggressive buyers and outside capital hasn’t historically been able to compete locally, but this land is more unique because of the easement.”

Bruere says several out-of-state inquiries have been made and he anticipates a mix of market participants.

The easement requires that certain sustainable agriculture practices be used on the farms and that conservation measures and structures currently utilized on the farms be maintained. The practices include no-till farming, annual cover crop plantings post-harvest with the basis of having continuous, living roots in the soil, and maintenance of existing terraces and waterways.

“We’ve been around many conservation easements throughout the years that simply take land out of production,” Bruere says. “What is unique with this easement is that it’s a continuation of how the Garst family has been managing these farms for years, which is with waterways, no-till, cover crops, and terracing. They want to preserve those farming practices that continue to build on the soil health foundation they’ve created.”

Outside of the financial and soil health benefits that strengthen the farm, the easement is attractive as interest and demand builds from consumers, sustainability groups, and companies in the food supply chain for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) metrics.

“At the end of the day, these farms are set up to meet a lot of ESG requirements,” Bruere says. “Some people may look at this as a ready-made ESG opportunity. A lot of capital is tied to sustainability and carbon and other goals, so this may attract a new style of buyer.”

In addition, Bruere says one of the key characteristics that makes this sale unique is the availability of data. The Garst farms have a long history of recorded performance that validates the management practices.

“The Garsts have been strong advocates of conservation and sustainability,” Bruere says. “They’re really endorsing the idea of the soil conservation easement. It is a pioneering move.”

While some may view the easement as an added layer of complexity and speculate if the land will sell at a discount, Bruere says it’s really an opportunity for a buyer and that the easement requirements aren’t any different than how the land would be farmed without it.

To the Garst family, this sale is an act of agricultural innovation to show farmers the real value in soil conservation practices.

“In acquiring this land, much which has been in our family for over 65 years, a new owner will have the most well-cared-for soil you will find in Iowa, plus a conservation easement that is flexible enough to make continuous improvements while ensuring the soil continues to yield dividends from good water management, weed control, reduced compaction, and yield growth,” Garst says.

The sale is being co-brokered by Clive, Iowa-based Peoples Company and Coon Rapids, Iowa-based Community Insurance Agency.

Interested parties must submit a sealed bid by close of business on Friday, August 6, 2021, with a live auction for invited bidders to take place Tuesday, August 17, 2021, at Raccoon River Social Club, 513 Main Street, Coon Rapids, Iowa, at 10 a.m. The sale is expected to close on Friday, September 17, 2021.

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