Dale and Sunny Nimrod, pictured at their farm in rural Decorah, are representative of landowners across the state who are eventually going to be moving from their farms. The Nimrods believe it’s important to plan for such transitions. (Photo courtesy the Practical Farmer magazine)
Dale and Sunny Nimrod, pictured at their farm in rural Decorah, are representative of landowners across the state who are eventually going to be moving from their farms. The Nimrods believe it’s important to plan for such transitions. (Photo courtesy the Practical Farmer magazine)
When Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) was looking for an appropriate Northeast Iowa host for a play it commissioned on farmland ownership, Dale Nimrod of Decorah recommended Washington Prairie Lutheran Church south of Decorah.
“Map of My Kingdom” will be performed there Sunday, Sept. 7. Nimrod has been a member of PFI for the past year and has strong feelings about the transfer of land.
When it became time to sell his family’s farm near Stanton, settled by Nimrod’s Swedish immigrant grandparents, Nimrod and his siblings – none of whom had remained in Stanton -- worked to find the appropriate owner.
“We were no different from many aging landowners facing this very common situation – we aspired to find a nice, young family who would appreciate the land, the community and the church, and would invest themselves in caring for all three,” Nimrod said in an article published in the summer 2013 edition of Practical Farmer, PFI’s magazine.
“But far too often I have seen owners who fervently hope for such an outcome put their place up for auction with little more than their fingers crossed regarding their community. It is a misperception, I think, that selling to the highest bidder is the only way to be fair when disposing of property. We were determined to make the desired outcome a reality, and we were convinced that such an outcome would go much farther than, say making a cash gift in sustaining community.”
The Nimrod siblings contacted the Lutheran pastor in Stanton and asked for the names of anyone who might be looking to farm. That’s how they connected with Mark Peterson, who purchased the farm after working through a land price based on production value rather than market value. Peterson is now a member of the PFI Board.

Church history
Washington Prairie Pastor Mark Kvale and Nimrod have discussed land issues in the past, and Kvale agreed his church could host the “Map of My Kingdom” performance.
Kvale told Nimrod land transfer issues are on the minds of many members at Washington Prairie -- an issue for rural Iowans across the state. According to a 2012 report from retired Iowa State University Extension Economist Mike Duffy, 56 percent of Iowa farmland is owned by people older than 65 and 30 percent of the land belongs to owners older than 75.
And as one of the largest and oldest rural congregations in the area, Washington Prairie and its members have a history of conservation and being good stewards of the soil, Kvale said.
“Dale approached me (about Washington Prairie hosting the play) almost immediately after talking about the topic of land transfer. It’s an important issue and something our members care about – the healthy transfer of the land,” Kvale said.
Washington Prairie’s former Pastor Oscar Engebretson, who served the congregation during the 1950s, did as much as anyone in the county on conservation issues at the time, Nimrod said.
“He preached from the pulpit it would be a sin to let soil go down the river … he worked very closely with the Soil and Water Conservation Service, now the Natural Resources Conservation Service, toward getting farmers to change to soil-conservation practices. He saw it as being a moral and theological responsibility to take care of the land,” Nimrod said.
But Nimrod emphasized Washington Prairie is simply hosting the performance, which is open to all denominations and members of the public.

Problems
Nimrod, who has not seen the play, said he believes it will touch on topics such as unfairness during land transactions.
For example, when one sibling takes over operation of the family farm and the others aren’t involved, problems occur when the parents die.
“When it comes to splitting it up, the others (siblings) want an equal share, which could mean the one farming can’t afford to buy it and they have to sell the farm. That’s happened many times ... I think the point of the play is to bring some of those issues out,” Nimrod said.
“Land market values are out of whack with the productivity value and that gets in the way of passing the land on in a way that’s fair and helpful to the person who spent all their life taking care of the land,” he said.
It can also be “depressing” for a farmer who spent time taking care of the land to sell to someone who lives a distance away and doesn’t continue that level of care, Nimrod said.
“It weighs on peoples’ minds,” he said.
“Map of My Kingdom” premiered to a sold out performance in West Branch in July. In addition to Washington Prairie Sept. 7, the play is scheduled for Chariton, Sept. 25, Red Oak, Sept. 28, and Ames, Jan. 23.