In the many middle states that keep the heart of agriculture beating in our country, agricultural protection programs are generally more scarce than in the northeast and western states, where development has long threatened a vibrant farm economy.
The Clean Ohio Agricultural Easement Purchase Program (AEPP) purchases agricultural easements from landowners who volunteer to keep their land in agricultural production in perpetuity. In 2013, the program was changed to the Local Agricultural Easement Purchase Program (LAEPP) to reflect the increased role of the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s (ODA) local sponsors in farmland preservation: counties, cities, townships, Soil & Water Conservation Districts and land trusts.
Landowners apply through pre-approved local sponsors using an on-line application on the ODA’s website. Each local sponsor receives a portion of the Clean Ohio funds appropriated that year to purchase easements from the highest scoring applicants in their area. The program is highly competitive with about one in 15 applications being funded. Federal Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program funds, administered by the US Department of Agriculture may be used to match Clean Ohio funds for up to 50% of the easement value, leveraging Clean Ohio dollars and allowing more landowners to participate in the easement program. The landowner may use proceeds from the easement’s sale for any purpose but most commonly funds are used to purchase additional acreage or equipment, expand farm operations, retire debt, plan for retirement or pay for education.
When a landowner proposes to sell an easement to ODA, the landowner must be able to demonstrate that retaining that farm in agricultural production in perpetuity is compatible with the township’s or county’s community plan and that it is not in the direct path of development. ODA encourages local governments to identify areas where agriculture is the predominant land use and where landowners want to remain in farming and take steps to preserve blocks of land to support Ohio’s # 1 industry, food and agriculture.
The question remains, in such a competitive program, what kind of farms are receiving assistance, and who qualifies for these easements.
See this list of easements fostered by the Clean Ohio Fund.