The Easement Purchase program was developed in 1988 to help slow the loss of prime farmland to non-agricultural uses. The program was formed by amending Act 43 of 1998 to include Section 914.1. The program enables state, county and local governments to purchase conservation easements, sometimes called development rights, from owners of quality farmland. The first easements were purchased in 1989.
Fifty-seven participating county programs receive state funds for the purchase of agricultural conservation easements. Counties participating in the program have appointed agricultural land preservation boards with a state board created to oversee this program. The state board is responsible for distribution of state funds, approval and monitoring of county programs and specific easement purchases.
Farm owners apply to the county program. Farm applications are ranked and then forwarded to the state board for approval after offers have been made. To date, more than 442,000 acres have been permanently protected. Pennsylvania leads the nation in farmland preservation. Applications can be obtained at the county level.
How Farms are Chosen for Easement Purchase
The farm is rated against other eligible parcels according to the following criteria:
- Quality of the Farmland. State regulations require that easements be purchased on farms of a minimum of 50 acres in size or at least 35 acres if a county adopts to allow farms of that size into their program. Parcels as small as 10 acres may be preserved if adjacent to existing preserved farmland or used for the production of crops unique to the area. At least half the tract must either be harvested cropland, pasture or grazing land and it must contain 50 percent soil capability, classes I-IV.
- Stewardship. Farms are rated on the use of conservation practices and best management practices of nutrient management and control of soil erosion and sedimentation.
- Likelihood of Conversion. Easements offered for sale to counties will be scored and ranked for acquisition based on a variety of factors such as:
- Proximity of farm to sewer and water lines.
- Extent and type of non -agricultural uses nearby.
- Amount and type of agricultural use in the vicinity.
- The amount of other preserved farmland in close proximity.
Proceeds from Easement Sale
Farmers may choose to receive the proceeds from easement sales in a lump sum payment, installments up to five years, or on a long-term installment basis. Many farmers use the proceeds from easement sales to reduce debt loads, expand operations and pass on farms to the next generation.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: What impact does agriculture have on Pennsylvania's economy?
Answer: Agriculture is the largest industry in Pennsylvania, producing over $45 billion annually and providing approximately 1 in 6 jobs in agriculture and related business (The Brookings Institution.)
Question: What is one of the major issues within Pennsylvania agriculture today?
Answer: Farmers are facing a tough challenge when it comes to keeping their land profitable through agriculture (The Brookings Institution.)
Question: How much land have we lost to development in recent years?
Answer: Overall, Pennsylvania developed some 1.14 million acres, or 1,800 square miles, of fields, open space, and natural land between 1982 and 1997-the sixth largest such conversion after Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and California. This equates to 209 acres per day, or 9 acres per hour, every hour (The Brookings Institution.)
Question: How does Pennsylvania rate versus other states for farmland preserved?
Answer: Pennsylvania's farmland preservation program, created in 1989, has protected more acres that any other state program in the nation.