2010-01-21 / Features

Conservation Corner

Fulton County Farmland Preservation Program Accepting Applications
By R. Seleen Shives DISTRICT MANAGER FULTON COUNTY CONSERVATION DISTRICT

The Pennsylvania Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Program was developed in 1988 to help slow the loss of prime farmland to non-agricultural uses. The program enables state, county and local governments to purchase conservation easements from owners of eligible farmland.

What is an agricultural conservation easement?

An agricultural conservation easement is an interest in land, less than fee simple, which represents the right to prevent development or improvement of a parcel for any purpose other than agricultural production.

How do conservation easements preserve farmland?

An agricultural conservation easement may be granted by a farmland owner to the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a county agricultural land preservation program, a local government unit or a local land trust. Easements can be sold or donated. After an easement is sold or donated, the conservation easement restrictions are recorded in the recorder of deeds office.

Why would a landowner want to sell an agricultural conservation easement?

Selling an agricultural conservation easement can permanently protect a family’s farmland from being lost to future non-agricultural development. Land-owners can receive cash for some of the equity tied up in their land and still retain ownership of their land. This money can be used to expand or improve a farm operation, pay off debt or can be saved for retirement. Conservation easements can be used as an estate planning tool to help landowners successfully pass farms on to the next generation.

What are the eligibility requirements?

All properties considered for conservation easement purchase must be included as part of a duly recorded Agricultural Security Area (ASA), which has at least 500 acres enrolled.

At least 50 percent of the property’s soils available for agricultural production must be in Land Capability Classes I – IV as defined by the USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

At least 50 percent of the property must be harvested cropland, pasture or grazing land.

The farm property must be at least 50 acres in size.

The applicant must exhibit good stewardship, including, but not limited to, the use of conservation and best land management practices such as soil erosion control and nutrient management. An approved conservation plan must be in place at or prior to closing on the purchase of the conservation easement.

All properties considered for easement purchase will be evaluated and ranked, based on a number of factors, including soil quality, likelihood of conversion, proximity to other eased lands, land stewardship, etc., using fair and equitable procedures that have been developed by the Fulton County Farmland Preservation Board.

What is the procedure for applying?

Landowners interested in having their farm considered by the Fulton County Farmland Preservation Board for agricultural conservation easement purchase must complete an application available at the Fulton County Conservation District Office. All applicants are required to pay a $100, non-refundable application fee at the time the application is submitted. The application fee should be made payable to the Fulton County Conservation District. The Fulton County Conservation District will be accepting applications for the Farmland Preservation Program from February 1 to March 31. For additional information, please contact District Manager Seleen Shives at 717- 485-3547, extension 121.

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