Prime Farmland Is Protected in Buchanan County

Share this article

Corn field with grain silos in the background.Buchanan County’s Comprehensive Plan already protects prime farmland against encroachment from non-agricultural commercial interests. We need to keep it that way if the Comprehensive Plan is to mean anything at all.

Do wind turbines belong in Buchanan County’s farm fields that are comprised of productive soils of CSR 55 or higher? According to the County Attorney’s office, they do not.

There has been a lot of discussion lately regarding Buchanan County’s soil Corn Suitability Rating (CSR). The County Comprehensive Plan has the CSR rating for prime agricultural land, land that needs to be preserved for agricultural use, set at 55 or above. The Wind Energy Conversion Systems Regulations (WECS) needs to follow the requirements of the County Comprehensive Plan. In short, that means turbine fields can only be located on land that has a soil CSR rating of below 55. The updated Comprehensive Plan has been in place since 2006. You can find the Plan on the Buchanan County website listed under County Ordinances & Policies. Following is a summary, taken from the Plan, explaining the reasoning behind the CSR rating. It is my hope that this will bring a bit of clarity to the CSR designation, the intensive work of the Planning and Zoning Commission, and will finally put to bed the assertion that private property rights are being arbitrarily taken away from individuals who desire to add wind turbines to prime agricultural properties.

Taken from the Buchanan County Iowa Comprehensive Plan:

Purpose of Comprehensive Planning: The State of Iowa, in the Code of Iowa, has provided the basis for planning in Chapter 335. This Chapter is commonly referred to as the State’s enabling legislation because it empowers counties to plan and regulate their physical development. Although the Code subsection pertaining to comprehensive plans is brief, it implies that a comprehensive plan be the basis of zoning regulations. Specifically, it states that regulations are to be in “accordance with a comprehensive plan”. Furthermore, the Code also, in the Chapters governing platting and subdivision of land and urban renewal, requires that these activities be consistent with a county’s comprehensive plan. (Page 3)

Soils: According to the Buchanan County Soil Survey, which was issued in March 1982, the soils are the most important and valuable natural resource the county possesses. (Page 3)

In addition to the Soil Survey itself, the County was issued a Soil Survey Supplement in August 1982, which establishes Corn Suitability Ratings (CSR) for the soils found in the County. CSR is a numerical rating, between five and 100, of each soil type in the County. Accordingly, the CSR scale shows that the higher the CSR, the higher the agricultural value of the soil type. Soils near the Wapsipinicon River and its floodplain have CSR scores less than 55, which is the threshold at which the County has deemed for preservation. In general, the remainder of the County is comprised of soils with CSR values of 55 or more rating points. (Page 3)

Existing Land use of the County: In order to identify future land use of the County, this Plan first looks at the existing use of land. To do so, the county was divided into four (4) broad categories, agriculture, recreational, residential, commercial and industrial uses, and areas of the County were assigned classification using existing zoning maps. Descriptions of these uses are as follows. Agricultural Uses: Agriculture is the primary existing land use in the unincorporated areas of the County. Types of uses included in this classification are: crop production; animal husbandry; pastureland; reserve areas; floodplain, woodlands preservation; and wetlands protection areas. Recreational and Quarry Uses: This type of land use includes local, county, and state parks, wildlife areas, preserves, public access areas, as well as other recreational and open spaces throughout the County. It also includes all of the unincorporated extraction or quarry sites in the County Residential Uses: Residential uses include existing residential subdivisions and residentially rezoned areas that are located throughout the County, most of which are very small areas. Not unexpectedly, the predominant type of use is the single-family dwelling unit. Commercial and Industrial Uses: In general, these uses exist sporadically throughout the County and are comprised of service industries, agriculturally related businesses, and other light industries. (Page 42)

The existing land use goals, objectives, and policy statements were first studied by the Buchanan County Comprehensive Plan Task Force in order to create the updated version contained herein. The Task Force was selected by the Board of Supervisors and Zoning Administrator to include the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Board of Adjustment, various county officials, the County Soil Conservation Commission and staff, the extension office director, County Engineer, the Zoning Administrator, the Board of Supervisors, and other persons interested in land use and the development of Buchanan County. Meetings were held in June and July of 2005 with the Task Force that started the process of identifying problem areas, realizing opportunities, and the formulation of the goals, objectives, and the policies of Buchanan County. The meetings were open to the public, and the time, place, and content of each meeting was made available to the public. (Page 44)

Adoption of the policies does not commit the county to any specific recommendation, but adoption does commit the county to actions that are consistent with the policy guidelines. (Page 44)

Agricultural Land Uses, Objectives: A. Preserve productive agricultural land and the family farm as the prime economic and social resources of Buchanan County by preventing land from being taken out of production by indiscriminate or excessive changes in land use. B. To recognize agricultural land of highly productive soils as the principal natural resource of the county. C. To discourage development upon agricultural land of highly productive soils. D. To base land use decisions concerning agricultural land on the Soil Survey of Buchanan County, compatibility of surrounding land uses, and serving the present and future needs of the people of Buchanan County. E. To promote the development of shelter belts, windbreaks, soil erosion stabilization methods, wildlife habitat areas, and preservation of natural lands by encouraging the coordination and cooperation between Buchanan County and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and other governmental agencies; and by encouraging individual stewardship of the lands and soils. (Page 46)

Policies: It shall be the policy of Buchanan County: A. To preserve agricultural lands of highly productive soils. It shall be known that Buchanan County, rich in fertile productive soils, desires to maintain this nonrenewable resource for future generations to employ in the production of food and fiber. Therefore, a parcel land where more than 25 percent of its area consists of agricultural lands of productive soils (having a corn suitability rating that has been rated at 55 or above) shall be considered “prime” and shall be preserved as “A-1” Agricultural District, unless there are extenuating circumstances. B. To recognize that agriculture, including row cropping, animal husbandry, and value-added agriculture endeavors, is an integral part of Buchanan County’s economy, and that any impact on agriculture is likely to affect the entire County. C. To understand that agriculture can be an intensive use of land and that all other land uses should be kept separate from agricultural lands to the maximum extent feasible to prevent increasing the legal liability of agricultural activities. D. To require that all levels of government and their agencies consider the impact which their programs and projects may have on agricultural activities, and seek to minimize any impacts which threaten the viability of agricultural activity and the family farm. (Page 46)

Private Property Rights: It is recognized that the establishment of policies regulating the use of land is a community issue. Adequate inputs and monitoring from local citizens and agencies must be considered during the comprehensive planning period. (Page 53)

Environmental Quality, Objectives: The quality and quantity of the air, land and water shall receive maximum consideration when requests for changing the land use is proposed. Under no circumstances shall the land be converted to uses that will negatively affect the health, safety, and general welfare of the residents of Buchanan County and surrounding areas. (Page 54)

Future Growth and Development, Agricultural Uses: As was previously stated, agriculture is the primary land use in the unincorporated areas of the County, and it is anticipated to remain so in the future. Corn Suitability Ratings (CSR) of Buchanan County soils, coupled together with the aforementioned Goals, Objectives, and Policy Statements comprise the basis of the County’s efforts to preserve its prime agricultural soils and areas. In terms of uses, it is anticipated that the primary agricultural uses will include: crop production; animal husbandry; farm homes and farm buildings; pastureland; reserve areas; woodlands preservation; and wetlands protection. (Page 55)

It’s clear that the Buchanan County Comprehensive Plan, written back in 2006 with no turbines in sight, was developed with the express purpose of protecting and preserving the rich and finite soil that defines our county. Once that soil is gone or corrupted, it can never be recovered – no matter what anyone tries to get you to believe. You can’t order and truck in fields of soil with a specified CSR. It simply doesn’t work that way.

The bottom line is this: Buchanan County created the Comprehensive Plan specifically to protect us from situations like the one we are in now. If we simply throw out the Comprehensive Plan because some commercial wind developer wants to come in and the plan doesn’t work for them? Why did we bother to create the Comprehensive Plan to begin with? It might as well not exist if we are just going to throw it out because some commercial developer doesn’t like it.

Please, take a moment to send a thank you email to Chad Beatty and ask him to share it with the P&Z Commission for doing their job and doing it well. Call or email the Board of Supervisors and tell them you support the new WECS regulations and ask them to do the same.

Chad Beatty –
Clayton Ohrt – 319-332-1766 –
Dawn Vogel (Chair) – 319-332-1765 –
John Kurtz – 319-332-1764 –

Share this article



We moved to Buchanan County a number of years ago with the hope that this would be our last move. Our plan was to retire in a beautiful, peaceful area rich in natural parks and wildlife and where we could enjoy our dogs and horses while simply growing old. Buchanan County was just about perfect. We are in our 70’s now and never anticipated that we would actually be spending this part of our lives fighting to keep the land of this county safe from a commercial company that wants to force their way in and destroy a way of life we have worked over 50 years to achieve.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *