Justin Dammann of Clarinda spoke to the Page County Board of Supervisors Aug. 17 about the possibility of cultivating a long-term agreement regarding the operation of the county farm.
Located at the southern edge Clarinda, the farm consists of 400 acres. It was donated to Page County Nov. 29, 1991, following the death of Essie Davison.
Dammann has operated the farm for the county since 2019. At that time the county took bids for the rental of the farm.
Dammann submitted the winning bid and was awarded a three-year contract to operate the farm. With that contract expiring soon, Dammann said he was hopeful his family and the county could come to a long-term agreement on the future use of the farm.
“The Woldruff family had that farm for about 60 years. Our family would like to have that same arrangement,” Dammann said. “What I’m wanting to do is have that opportunity. My son is 10-years-old. He’s all about farming. We have the model to be able to do that.”
Although the bids for the farm rental were presented as a flat rate, Dammann calculated the cost at $265 an acre for the tillable ground and $100 per acre on the pasture ground. He presented the board with a copy of the 2021 Iowa State cash rent survey that showed the farm fell into the higher range of land for Page County.
Dammann said he was aware some counties take annual bids for the rental of farm ground. However, he does not believe that is best for the productivity of the farm.
“What happens is you bid it to where there is very little, if any, income for the farmer. So he ends up cutting corners that probably shouldn’t be cut,” Dammann said. “I don’t know that we’re all after the last dollar in this arrangement. I think we’re all after some sort of relationship where we can make that farm look good and be proud of it as you come into town. And I’m willing to invest some of my funds in this too.”
As a farmer himself, Supervisor Jacob Holmes agreed he did not favor annual rental agreements. However, he said he has had local farmers ask him when the county farm would be coming up for rent again.
“If it had been in there, ‘if a good job is done, we’re going to enter into a life-long agreement, basically’ ... people might have bid differently,” Holmes said. “You don’t want one year rental agreements. I’ve done those and the farm pays the price. It suffers. So, a three-year agreement is better.”
Supervisor Alan Armstrong said in the next 30 days the board should investigate what other counties owning farm land have done. He said the county should also explore the legal obligations involved with renting the farm.
“If you decide to bid it again, keep it a Page County resident. That is something you did last time,” Dammann said. “There are lots of farmers that would be interested in this farm locally and that was proven in the last bid offer. I don’t think we need to have people coming from 50 miles away to farm that farm.”
No action was taken Tuesday on the rental of the farm. Instead, Armstrong suggested the county conclude its research by October and then discuss how to proceed.
Beyond renting the land, Dammann also discussed some possible maintenance issues at the farm. At the entrance to the farm there is a lane lined with trees and a historical marker for the site. Dammann said he has been amazed how many people stop to view the marker and the lane, but some of the trees are in need of care.
“Going past the farm over the years, I didn’t realize how iconic that entrance was. Several years ago it was discussed about taking those trees out because they are falling down,” Dammann said. “I never knew the farm when Essie lived there or any of the history, but I assume that kind of a pristine place at one time. I know the house has been taken down because it went by the wayside, but I guess my thought is the lane still looks pretty nice even though the trees are kind of falling apart.”
Therefore, Dammann said he would be willing to provide some equipment to assist with cleaning up the trees. Then, he said a community or civic project could be started to plant new trees to replace those lost over the years.
“I know the look will be a little different because you’re going to have some new trees between the existing trees, but I think over time, with some guidance, we might be able to maintain that visual there for the farm.”
“I like that idea a lot and it would be great if we could get some community partners to take that on,” Morris said.
“Even if a community project wouldn’t take it on, we manage the farm. We make money off the farm. We should make sure we do our best. Like we had to clean up the house,” Holmes said. “When we moved here one of the things I notices was how neat that place looked sitting there. It’s a pretty neat lane. It’s a big deal she gave that farm to the county.”