Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of farms and acres permanently preserved for agricultural production. The program guarantees a future food supply and contributes to a healthier economy. It also assures a way of life Pennsylvanian's cherish will continue for generations to come. The program is a partnership between all levels of government and non-profit organizations - with a common goal of saving prime farmland.
Preserved Farms Resource Center
Do you own a preserved farm that you’re looking to pass on to a new generation? Learn how the new Preserved Farms Resource Center
can guide your family on the process of planning your farm’s future.
EASEMENT PURCHASE PROGRAM
The Pennsylvania Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Program was developed to strengthen Pennsylvania's agricultural economy and protect prime farmland. This program enables state and county governments to purchase conservation easements from farmers. The program was approved in 1988 and the first easement was purchased in December of 1989. Now, more than 4,700 farms have been approved for easement purchases totaling more than 500,000 acres.
HOW IS AN EASEMENT CHOSEN FOR PURCHASE?
In addition to being a part of an Agricultural Security Area (ASA), the parcel of land is ranked against other eligible parcels according to several criteria.
QUALITY OF FARMLAND
Guidelines require that easements be purchased on farms of at least 50 acres in size, or 35 acres if the county program elects. Parcels as small as 10 acres may be preserved if adjacent to existing preserved farmland or growing a crop unique to the region. At least half of the tract must be harvested cropland, pasture or grazing land, and contain 50 percent land capability classes I-IV.
Farms are inspected at least once every two years to ensure that the farm owner is in compliance with the terms of the deed of easement. One of the requirements is implementation of a soil and water conservation plan. In addition, the farm owner must adhere to a nutrient management plan if the farm is a concentrated animal operation. All farms in Pennsylvania are required to have an Ag Erosion and Sedimentation Plan and/or a Manure Management Plan.
LIKELIHOOD OF CONVERSION
The farmland is scored and ranked for possible uses other than agriculture based upon a variety of factors such as: proximity of farm to water and sewer lines, extent and type of non-farm development nearby, amount and type of agricultural use in the vicinity and the amount of other preserved farmland in close proximity.
DETERMINATION OF VALUE
An independent licensed real estate appraiser is selected by the county board to determine the market value and agricultural value of the land. The difference between these two values is the maximum value of the perpetual conservation easement. The county board has the option to offer a purchase price less than the appraised value of the easement.
CONSERVING OUR FARMLAND
The long term goal of the program is to permanently preserve farmland. The holder of the easement has the right to prevent development or improvements of the land for purposes other than agricultural production. Local, county or state government or any combination of the three may purchase easements. Counties that decide to have an Easement Purchase Program must create an agricultural land preservation board. The law provides for a mix of persons to serve on the board.
Presently, 57 counties have established boards. In addition to the county board, the 17-member State Agricultural Land Preservation Board provides statewide governance of the program. This board is responsible for the distribution of funds, approval and monitoring of the county programs and specific easement purchases. The Department of Agriculture Bureau's of Farmland Preservation is responsible for administration of the statewide program.
RECENT PROGRAM CHANGES
In 2013, the Agricultural Area Security law was amended to require counties to inspect farms biennially.
AGRICULTURAL SECURITY AREAS
Agricultural Security Areas are a tool for protecting our farms and farmland from of non-agricultural uses. To establish an ASA, a petition is submitted to the township supervisors by the farmers. These security areas are re-evaluated every seven years; however, new parcels of farmland may be added to an established ASA at any time. A combined minimum of 250 acres is required for the establishment of an ASA.
An ASA may include non-adjacent farmland parcels of at least 10 acres or be able to produce $2,000 annually from the sale of agricultural products.
Participants receive special consideration regarding:
- Protection from local ordinances and nuisance lawsuits affecting normal farming activities.
- Review of farmland condemnation by state and local government agencies.
An ASA qualifies land for consideration under the farmland preservation program at the owner's request if the ASA has at least 500 acres enrolled.
THE CLEAN AND GREEN ACT
The Clean and Green Act, established in 1974, is designed to preserve farmland, forest land and open space by taxing land according to its use as farmland rather than its market value and its potential use for activities other than agriculture.
This program is voluntary and requires a minimum of 10 acres or capable of producing $2,000 annually in agricultural sales. There are three categories of eligibility; agricultural use, agricultural reserve, or forest reserve. Land taken out of Clean and Green is subject to a roll-back tax, imposed for up to seven years, plus six percent interest. Enrolled land is entitled to certain divisions and conveyances with limited or no rollback tax consequences as provided for in the Act.
YOU CAN HELP LEAD THE WAY
If you want to become part of Pennsylvania's nation-leading farmland preservation program, contact:
Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture
Bureau of Farmland Preservation
2301 N. Cameron St., Room 402
Harrisburg, PA 17110-9408