(Photo credit: Peoples Company)

A Garst legacy to live on

August 5, 2021 | Joseph Hopper

Eight parcels of farmland in Coon Rapids will be changing hands, but a legacy of conservation practices implemented by one of Iowa’s most famous farming families will continue.

The 1,998 acres up for auction Aug. 17 are being sold by the Garst family, famously known for hosting Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev and his family for a visit during the Cold War in 1959.

The sale will include a permanent conservation easement specific to each piece of land. It requires conservation practices such as no-till, annual post-harvest cover crops and the maintenance of existing terraces and waterways.

Liz Garst, the Garst family business manager and granddaughter of Iowa farmers and citizen diplomats Roswell and Elizabeth Garst, says the family has invested in the protection of soils on their farms for decades. The conservation easement is their way of doing what they can to protect Iowa’s future in agriculture.

“It depends on retaining our soil and making it healthier,” she says.

Peoples Company of Clive and Community Insurance Agency of Coon Rapids are representing the Garst family in the sale. The family’s 5,500-acre nonprofit land trust, Whiterock Conservancy, will enforce the permanent easements.

The family decided to no-till in the mid-1980s and utilize cover crops on all farms since 2013. Liz Garst says the results have been yields increasing faster than county average on most farms. Erosion control, she adds, is “as good as it gets.”

Will the permanent easements impact sale prices? Iowa Soybean Association Senior Research Program Manager Todd Sutphin says conservation easements are not a new trend in property sales.

Historically, Sutphin says easements attached to property sales can make prospective buyers nervous. However, with the rising interest in soil health, water quality and climate-related issues, easement discussions like the ones the Garst family are using aren’t as taboo as maybe they once were. Peoples Company President Steve Bruere agrees.

“Most of these practices are what many farmers should be looking into,” Sutphin adds, “and many have upsides as research has shown.”

"The marketplace has really accepted the idea of a conservation easement not as a negative but as a positive factor for the land and recognize that this easement aligns the land with the long term interest of the consumer and the supply chain and in many ways is a positive for the value of the land," Breure says.

Sealed-bid auction bids for the individual tracts are due before 5 p.m. Friday. The top seven individual tract or combination tract bidders will be invited to attend the live auction at 10 a.m. Aug. 17. For more information, visit garstfarmsauction.com.