Land Access Policy

Visit our policy platform page to see all of the policy changes we support. Land access-specific changes we are advocating for include:

 

FEDERAL POLICY

  • Prioritize conservation easements that protect farmland affordability within the Agricultural Land Easement (ALE) Program’s national ranking criteria.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service will match up to 50 percent of the price of a conservation easement through its Agricultural Land Easement Program (part of the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program [ACEP]). This is an excellent use of federal funds that should continue and be expanded; however, priority should be given to programs or easements that include affordability provisions. If affordability protections are not made in an easement, the land can be sold at a price many times greater than what a farmer can afford and there is no guarantee that it will remain an active farm when the land next changes hands. Land held by a farmer is most likely to be used for production and actively managed to maintain its agricultural viability. Innovative land trusts are making their conservation easements stronger to ensure land stays in production and in the hands of working farmers. Because these easements can be 10-40% more expensive, it is critical that NRCS support them through ACEP funding. Model programs to assure affordability have been successfully implemented by the Vermont Land Trust and by the State of Massachusetts.

  • Ensure that the ALE Program facilitates the use of easements that protect farmland succession to farmers and supports beginning farmers by providing technical support to land trusts, streamlining approval of easements with these provisions, and allowing land trusts to receive funding directly while they hold land that will be sold to a beginning farmer.

These policy changes within the ALE Program would help to make it easier for land trusts to access federal funding to permanently protect land for farmers. We recommend NRCS provide technical assistance to land trusts on using easements that protect farmland at its agricultural value and help ensure it stays in the hands of farmers. This will encourage land trusts that have not previously used these mechanisms in their easements to incorporate them, and support those already using these easements to utilize best practices in upholding and implementing them.

The NRCS should streamline the process of approval for easements that help keep farmland affordable to farmers. One way this might be done is by providing a pre-approved template for easements containing succession or production requirements that is adaptable by local jurisdiction. Currently, in order to incorporate measures that keep farmland in agriculture into projects receiving ALE funding, land trusts must have the easement language approved by NRCS for each application. This process presents a significant time and administrative requirement, acting as a barrier to the adoption of easements that help ensure farmland stays in the hands of farmers and in active agricultural use.

Currently, conservation land trusts are not eligible to directly receive ALE funds for the sale of an agricultural land easement. However, land trusts often purchase farms on the open market and then, over a period of years, conserve and transfer those farms to qualified farmers. Land trusts could assist more young farmers if they were able to receive ALE funds to sell agricultural land easements early in their period of farm ownership. Further, an early easement sale would enable land trusts to provide longer transition periods for new farmers – for example, through a multi- year lease-purchase arrangement.

 

STATE POLICY

  • Prioritize conservation easements with affordability language and succession planning in Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) funding

Protecting a farm from development with an agricultural easement may not ensure that the land will be owned and operated by a farmer or that it will be affordable for a farmer to purchase. Massachusetts, through its Agricultural Preservation Restriction program, is committed to keep working lands in active farming by requiring that eased parcels be resold at ‘agricultural value.’ As noted in the federal section, it is important that land protection be coupled with affordability and active farming. Other states should adopt similar regulations in their programs to fund agricultural easements.

  • Provide tax incentives for landowners who rent or sell land to beginning farmers

Nebraska and Iowa have adopted innovative programs to provide tax incentives to landowners who lease or sell land to a beginning farmer. Other states should consider similar programs.

  • Make state lands available through contract, lease or purchase programs to beginning farmers

A number of states make land available for leasing for agricultural purposes, including Texas, Washington, CaliforniaMassachusettsConnecticut, and Mississippi (and others – check your state’s website for opportunities). In Massachusetts and Connecticut, the rental term is typically five years with an option to renew for an additional five. These licenses come with restrictions that farmers must use the property for agricultural and use good soil and resource management practices.

Louisiana keeps an inventory of state lands that is accessible online through their mapping website. New York State is considering legislation that would require state lands to be inventoried and help make them accessible to beginning farmers for crop production or livestock grazing. The State is also working on a unique grazing program that would contract farmers to bring their animals on to State-held lands to help meet management goals through grazing.

More states should inventory state-held land and make it available to be leased, purchased, or grazed under contract by beginning farmers.

 

ORGANIZATIONAL POLICY

  • Increase organization capacity of land trusts to implement measures that keep farmland in the hands of farmers

As discussed above, land trusts have long been an important partner for farmers through their work to keep farmland free from development. A small number of land trusts are going a step further to ensure that farmland stays in the hands of farmers. They are using innovate easements that keep land available to farmers and programming that supports farm viability. We believe this should be the standard for farmland conservation. We are supporting the scaling-up of these strategies and implementation by more land trusts across the country by providing technical support and working to increase funding opportunities.