A National View of Agriculture Easement Programs: Measuring Success in Protecting Farmland - Report 4
When do agricultural easements effectively preserve farmland from urban influences? This report answers the question by examining five different tests of effective farmland protection as applied to the experiences of 46 easement programs in 15 states. Here are the principal findings, organized according to the five tests:
1. Numerical Achievements. Judging by acres and farms preserved, the 46 programs have impressive accomplishments. But in relation to the preservation job in front of them, the results are mixed. Only a half dozen programs have come close to completing their acquisitions in relation to the total farm acres and farms in their jurisdictions and according to stated program goals.
2. Land Market Impacts. A strong indication of easement effectiveness is that protected parcels largely remain in farming, even for the many properties that are later purchased by non-farmers primarily for residential use—the single most important finding of this study. The
reason, as suggested by data on parcel resales for a number of programs, is that the purchasers tend to lease their newly acquired land to active farmers for ease of management and tax reasons.
3. Local Agricultural Economies. It is far less clear that easements are effective in contributing to another important agricultural condition—healthy local support services such
as farm supply outlets, tractor dealers and processing facilities. Such services continued their long decline in many communities with easement programs, because of more powerful economic forces, including changes from traditional agricultural to suburban customers.
4. Influencing Urban Growth. Easements effectively help to redirect or influence urban growth in about a half dozen of the communities served by sample programs, working largely in conjunction with local government planning policies, zoning and other land use regulations, and service delivery limitations.
5. Long-Term Preservation. Most sample programs are not prepared for the long-term job of protecting the continued viability of their holdings and preventing or responding to problems of noncompliance with easement restrictions. They have not put sufficient resources into stewardship activities, as seen in inconsistent and incomplete efforts to periodically monitor the conditions of easement properties.
This report concludes with a set of predictions and prescriptions, several of them focused on the likely increase in easement compliance problems in the future. Easement programs should devote more resources to monitoring and other stewardship activities, including the designation of specialized staff in the area, better data on changes in parcel ownership and stronger efforts to work with new landowners of easement parcels.