EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

As the first report from the National Assessment of Agricultural Easement Programs, this publication reviews the progress and experiences of 46 leading agricultural conservation easement programs in 15 states. Collectively these local and state programs account for a majority of the 1.8 million agricultural acres put under easement nationwide since this technique was first seriously applied to farmland protection a quarter of a century ago. The National Assessment is a joint project of American Farmland Trust and the Agricultural Issues Center of the University of California, Davis.

Each program is profiled with details of its easement accomplishments, funding, organization, origins, acquisition strategies, connections to local planning, population and agricultural characteristics. Most profiles are accompanied by color maps showing the distribution of easements in relation to the farmland base, urbanization and other geographical features.

A summary section compares the major features of the 46 programs. Some highlights of this comparison are:

  1. Most local programs are found in the suburban and semi-rural parts of major metropolitan areas, with county populations of more than 100,000 and rapid population growth.
  2. For all programs in the national study, the direct cost of purchasing easements-generally the difference between market and farming values-averages to about $2,000 an acre. But in many cases the development rights are worth more, with the added value contributed as full or partial donations by landowners for tax benefits.
  3. State governments provide most easement funds, with lesser amounts coming from local taxes, federal funds and nonprofit sources.
  4. While there is a potential to use easements to complement local planning and land use policies in protecting farmland, few agricultural easement programs work in this way. One reason is that easement activities and local planning often are managed by separate organizations.

This first report from the National Assessment project is largely descriptive. Subsequent reports scheduled in 2004 will be more evaluative, examining in greater detail the implications of quantitative and qualitative acquisition strategies, easement-local planning connections, and perceived and objective measures of program impact and effectiveness.

Publication of this report was made possible by Farm Foundation.

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