With land prices down, states protecting more agricultural land while spending less

By Stewart Doan

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, Sept. 20 – According to statistics released Monday by American Farmland Trust (AFT), state governments’ efforts to protect agricultural land through purchase of agricultural conservation easement (PACE) programs accelerated in 2009 despite funding shortfalls.

An annual survey of PACE programs in 26 states found that they acquired seven percent more easements and protected seven percent more acres than in 2008, but cumulatively states spent $101,173,259 — or 30 percent less — than in 2008, likely due to declining land values.

“I’m pleased to see states forging ahead, but the funding reductions are frustrating,” says Julia Freedgood, AFT’s Managing Director for Farmland and Communities. “This is a critical time to invest in farmland protection while land is relatively inexpensive because it is a strategic long term investment in rural communities. PACE programs should be seen as an investment in agricultural infrastructure and local economic development.”

Overall, states spent $234,932,161 to protect 128,665 acres of farm and ranch land in 2009. The federal government helped bridge the funding gap by releasing $22 million more in Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) allocations than it did in 2008.

The results are available online at: www.farmlandinfo.org

States may need to continue to do more with less. Although land values have declined, AFT notes the economic downturn and state budget shortfalls have resulted in reduced funding for farmland protection, even in states with typically well-funded programs. States report that they will have $9.5 million less to work with in the upcoming year. These cuts come on top of a 23.5 percent decrease or $109 million reduction in available funding since 2007.

Twenty-five states have active state-level PACE programs, which pay farmers and ranchers to permanently protect their land with a conservation easement that limits future development and keeps the farmland available for agriculture.

To date, the state programs have invested over $3 billion to protect more than two million acres of farm and ranch land. Four states—Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware and Massachusetts— have each invested more than $100 million toward farmland protection while Maryland has invested more than $575 million, Pennsylvania more than $700 million, and New Jersey more than $800 million. Colorado, Maryland and Pennsylvania have each protected more than 345,000 acres.

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