Paul Morf and Nicolas AbouAssaly Assist with the Sale of Garst Family Farmland Totaling $19.3 Million
Estate Planning attorney, Paul Morf, and Real Estate attorney, Nicolas AbouAssaly recently had the opportunity to represent the Garst family in a complex and unprecedented sale of 2,000 acres in West Central Iowa, including a single field of 1,000 acres. This auction was unprecedented because it is the first time a family has sold row crop agricultural land at auction while restricting the future use of the land by requiring conservation practices such as no-til farming methods and cover crops to ensure continuous living roots in the soil.
The goal is to honor the family’s legacy of commitment to soil health and water quality, even as they exit ownership. Unique conservation easements, developed by Paul Morf, will restrict the future use of the land, and will be held by Whiterock Conservancy, a private land-trust established by the Garst family in Coon Rapids (with Morf’s assistance) with a campus of roughly 5,000 contiguous acres maintained for ecological health, sustainable agriculture, education, and public recreation. This campus includes the farm where Roswell Garst hosted Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1959. Whiterock Conservancy will monitor the eight sold tracts of land (located in the West Central Iowa counties of Carroll, Greene, Audubon, and Guthrie) annually for compliance with the conservation-sensitive farming requirements. The eight parcels sold for $19,262,308 at auction, with the buyers taking title subject to these permanent conservation easements. The auction was conducted in two stages, with sealed bids submitted first and a live auction occurring later for qualified bidders. Several zoom meetings were held pre-auction to educate potential bidders about the conservation practices and the data showing that their use over decades had elevated the soil health of the farms in question and correlated to resilient, high yields even in years of challenging weather.
The Garst family is known for their land stewardship and the conservation easements adhere to their long-standing values, while also keeping it as flexible as possible for the buyers. “We wanted to keep it simple and ensure soil health was the main priority,” said Liz Garst, Garst family business manager.
In early 2021, Garst brought together trusted experts in soil health to help outline the basic principles of the easements, and Morf gathered this input and designed conservation easements that restricted the land as little as possible consistent with the goals of preserving erosion control structures, ensuring continuous living roots in the soil, and preventing tillage practices.
It came as a surprise to some that all five bidders who purchased the tracts of land are farmers, but the simplicity of the easements made farmers comfortable buying despite the restrictions. Garst credits the clarity and simplicity of Morf’s conservation easement design, stating “Everyone involved was impressed with how well the easements were drafted.”
Nicolas AbouAssaly was also instrumental in the sales through his work on drafting the real estate purchase agreements and other work related to ensure good legal title and access to the parcels. AbouAssaly will continue to handle all aspects of the real estate matters, working with the sellers and buyers, until closings are completed on all the parcels in September. Each winning bidder has an option to carve out a 15-acre building envelope before the easements are recorded by the sellers prior to closing on the farm sales.
The firm’s relationship with the Garst family dates back to 2004 when Morf assisted in the formation of Whiterock Conservancy, the nonprofit land trust who will now work with the new landowners to provide guidance related to the values in the easement. Morf is deeply committed to ecological restoration of prairies and other native ecosystems, having helped reconstruct and restore nearly 80 acres of prairie, woodlands, and wetlands on family-owned land. Morf has donated conservation easements on a portion of his wildlife farm in rural Linn County. He serves on the board of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and is a former president of the Indian Creek Nature Center.
- Garst Land Brings Family Millions in Auction (Des Moines Register)
- Over 1,900 Acres of Garst Farms Sell for Over $19 Million (Successful Farming)
- Farmland Auction - Garst Farms in West Central Iowa (YouTube via PeoplesCo)
- Q&A: Liz Garst, Garst Seed Company (Successful Farming)
Simmons Perrine Moyer Bergman PLC is a full service law firm with locations in Cedar Rapids and Coralville, Iowa. For more information, visit spmblaw.com.
Disclaimer: This information is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed or relied on, as legal advice. Please consult your attorney if specific legal information is desired.