USDA plays active role in farmland protection

USDA plays active role in farmland protection – United States Department of Agriculture

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, through its Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), is an active partner with America’s farmers and ranchers in helping to protect agricultural land. One way it accomplishes this is with the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP), a voluntary land conservation program.

The program provides matching funds to state, tribal or local governments and non-governmental organizations with existing farm and ranch land protection programs to purchase conservation easements. The program was first authorized in 1985 as the Farmland Protection Program. The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (2002 Farm Bill) added ranch land to the program and reauthorized it as the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP).

Under this program (through 2002), more than 170,000 acres have been protected in 35 states.

How FRPP Works

Eligible entities acquire conservation easements from landowners. Participating landowners agree not to convert their land to non-agricultural uses and to develop and implement a conservation plan for any highly erodible land. All highly erodible lands enrolled must have a conservation plan developed based on the standards in the NRCS Field Office Technical Guide and approved by the local conservation district. Landowners retain all rights to use the property for agriculture.

To participate, a landowner submits an application to an entity–a state, tribal, or local government or a non-governmental organization–that has an existing farm or ranch land protection program. The NRCS state conservationist, with advice from the State Technical Committee, awards funds to qualified entities to purchase perpetual conservation easements.

Eligibility

To qualify for FRPP, the land offered must be part or all of a farm or ranch and must:

* Contain prime, unique or other productive soil or historical or archaeological resources;

* Be included in a pending offer from a state, tribal or local government or non-governmental organization’s farmland protection program;

* Be privately owned;

* Be covered by a conservation plan for any highly erodible land;

* Be large enough to sustain agricultural production;

* Be accessible to markets for what the land produces;

* Be surrounded by parcels of land that can support long-term agricultural production; and

* Be owned by an individual or entity that does not exceed the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) limitation.

The AGI provision of the 2002 Farm Bill impacts eligibility for FRPP and several other 2002 Farm Bill programs. Individuals or entities that have an average AGI exceeding $2.5 million for the three tax years immediately preceding the year the contract is approved are not eligible to receive program benefits or payments. However, an exemption is provided in cases where 75 percent of the AGI is derived from farming, ranching, or forestry operations. The final rule for this provision has not yet been published.

If the land cannot be converted to non-agricultural uses because of existing deed restrictions or other legal constraints, it is ineligible for FRPP.

Funding

FRPP is funded through the Commodity Credit Corporation. The FRPP share of the easement cost must not exceed 50 percent of the appraised fair market value of the conservation easement. As part of its share of the cost of purchasing a conservation easement, a state, tribal, or local government or non-governmental organization may include a charitable donation by the landowner of up to 25 percent of the appraised fair market value of the conservation easement. A cooperating entity must provide, in cash, 25 percent of the appraised fair market value of the conservation easement or 50 percent of the purchase price.

For more information

If you need more information about FRPP, please contact your local USDA Service Center, listed in the telephone book under U.S. Department of Agriculture, or your local conservation district. Information also is available on the World Wide Web at: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/farmbill/2002/.

COPYRIGHT 2003 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rural Business – Cooperative Service

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