Land Use Planning – State

Pursue comprehensive, statewide and regional land use planning to limit development on agricultural soils.

By pursuing comprehensive, statewide and regional land use planning, states can limit development on agricultural soils and create legal and regulatory policies that support the success of young farmers and support the viability of regional foodsheds.


The average age of U.S. farmers is approaching 60 years, and is increasing with every Census, meaning that we are facing an imminent transition of millions of acres of agricultural land.

While this generational transition should represent an incredible opportunity for young producers to enter the field, the legacies of land use laws and farm policies have created daunting barriers to entry for young farmers and put this acreage at risk of leaving farming forever. As real estate development pressure increases, finding secure access to land has become an insurmountable challenge for many of the young farmers and ranchers who we depend on to feed us.

Statewide planning offers a tool to limit development on prime agricultural soils and has been used to protect both rural and urban farmland. A report from Land For Good, American Farmland Trust, and the Conservation Law Foundation describes such planning programs as farmland mitigation policy, which “steers siting of public or private development away from productive farmland, and, when development of productive farmland is approved, requires permanent protection of a generally equivalent amount of other farmland.”


  • Encourage innovative land use planning and zoning amendments to limit development on prime agricultural soils, prioritize agricultural land use, and enable land access for farmers. Examples include reducing up-zoning, where agricultural zones are converted to commercial and urban use; using zoning to designate areas for local food production; and cluster zoning with agricultural set-asides; among others.
  • Amend state and local property tax structures to support agricultural activity at smaller scales.

States Implementing

A number of states, including Oregon, California, and Vermont, have implemented versions of statewide planning to protect farmland and other important natural resources.

In some states these programs involve tax incentives and the creation of agricultural zones, while in others the process involves community participatory-planning to incorporate environmental, social and financial goals of the community.

Massachusetts (from the LFG, AFT, and CLF report)

“Massachusetts’ authority for farmland mitigation is found in two independent sources—the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA), and an Executive Order (EO 193) signed by Governor Edward King in 1981. Administered by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, Executive Order 193 is used with MEPA to mitigate against the alteration of land resources and specifically the conversion of ‘land in active agricultural use to nonagricultural use, provided the land includes soils classified as prime, state-important or unique.'”

While the law was initially designed “to protect against the conversion of agricultural land connected to state-owned hospitals. Over time interpretation and application of EO 193 has expanded and farmland mitigation is now part of projects undertaken by other state agencies and private developers.”

EO 193 directs “state agencies to mitigate against the conversion of state-owned agricultural land” and sets forth a series of policies intended to prevent against unnecessary conversion of agricultural land.

Read more in the report linked above, including recommendations for improvement of this program and strategies used in other states, including Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine.


Vermont Act 250, the Land Use and Development Law, was enacted in 1970. This law establishes a process for reviewing the environmental, social and fiscal consequences of major development or subdivision projects through a statewide permitting system. Act 250 has protected the state’s natural and cultural resources including agricultural soils, water and air quality, and wildlife habitat.


Oregon’s Land Conservation and Development Commission was established in 1973 and serves to set standards and criteria for preserving farmland that are then adopted at the city and county level through local comprehensive plans and land-use ordinances. This has resulted in the adoption of farmland protection planning and zoning measures in all counties in the state.


California’s Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone, AB 551 was passed in 2014. This bill provides landowners in metropolitan areas with a tax incentive for putting land into agricultural use. This requires cities and counties to first create urban agriculture incentive zones to establish eligible land for this program.

In 2014, San Francisco was the first city to establish that the entire city qualifies as an urban agriculture incentive zone. The value of land under an Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone contract will be based on the average annual per acre value of irrigated cropland in California. The property will then be assessed proportionally dependent on the acreage under contract. The tax benefit will, therefore, differ parcel-by-parcel, dependent on the difference between a parcel’s current tax assessment and the value under the UAIZ program.

New York

New York’s Agricultural Districts Law provides protections for agricultural land in County-designated areas by optimizing zoning laws, limiting eminent domain, and encouraging farming practices that might otherwise be restricted by local laws and ordinances.