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WHEN DID THIS PROGRAM BEGIN?

In mid-February of 1989, Pennsylvania entered a new phase in its efforts to preserve the Commonwealth’s farmland resources.  A statewide program to purchase agricultural conservation easements (also commonly referred to as “development rights”).  Farmers whose land is included in an Agricultural Security Area will be eligible to sell conservation easements, on a voluntary basis to a county agricultural land preservation board.  Northampton County preserved its first farm in 1993 in Lower Mount Bethel Township.

 

WHAT IS AN AGRICULTURAL CONSERVATION EASEMENT?

An agricultural conservation easement is the property owner’s right to prevent the development or improvement of the land for any purpose other than agricultural production.  It is a legally binding contract that runs with the land.  By selling the “development rights”, it prevents that land from ever being developed.

 

HOW WOULD PURCHASING AGRICULTURAL CONSERVATION EASEMENTS PRESERVE AGRICULTURE?

It would provide compensation to farmers for easement values of farmland they preserve in long-term agricultural use.  By selling conservation easements, the farmer would receive the easement value of the property without having to sell it for non-farm development.  Purchasing agricultural conservation easements provides a long-term, permanent solution to farmland conversion.

 

WHO DETERMINES THE VALUE OF AGRICULTURAL EASEMENTS?

The county farmland preservation board determines the market value, easement value, and the farmland value of the property by retaining independent licensed real estate appraisers. 

HOW LONG ARE AGRICULTURAL CONSERVATION EASEMENTS?

Agricultural Conservation Easements are held in perpetuity.  They run with the land.  So should the land ever be sold, transferred, or willed, the easement will follow the land.

 

WHAT ARE THE FARMER’S RIGHTS AFTER SELLING A CONSERVATION EASEMENT?

The right to develop or prevent development is only one of many rights in a property owner’s “bundle of rights”.  Some of the rights include the right to sell, lease, mortgage, leave to heirs, mineral rights, air rights and surface rights.  After selling the conservation easement, the owner retains all of the other rights and responsibilities that go along with property ownership. 

Selling conservation easements would not prevent constructing buildings used for agricultural production, including a structure for housing seasonal or full-time workers.  Customary part-time or off-seasonal rural enterprises may not be affected.  In addition, coal, oil, and gas exploration as well as the granting of rights-of-way for utilities or transporting coal, oil, and gas would be unaffected by easement sale.

 

WHAT IS THE MINIMUM CRITERIA FOR ELIGIBILTIY?

Property that is eligible to be preserved through this program is:
  1. Contiguous acreage of 50 acres or more (25 acres or more for a county purchase), or 10 acres or more contiguous to a previously preserved farm,
  2. Located within an Agricultural Security Area,
  3. 50% of soils available for agricultural production are classes I through IV, 
  4. Contain the greater of 50% cropland, pasture or grazing land, and be
  5. In agricultural and open space use.

WHO IS ON THE COUNTY FARMLAND PRESERVATION BOARD?

The county board will be composed of either 5, 7, or 9 members appointed by the county governing body.  On five member boards, two members are required to be farmers; seven and nine members boards must have three or four farmer members respectively.  A current member of a township or borough governing body and a building contractor must also have membership status on the board.

 

HOW WILL THE MONEY TO PURCHASE CONSERVATION EASEMENTS BE ALLOCATED?

County contributions are determined by county government, whether that be allocated county budget funds or through other designated funding sources.  Roll back tax interest is also utilized.  The state then matches that allocation.  Since July of 1993, a two-cent per pack cigarette tax has provided about $21 million per year for the Easement Purchase Program.  Also, since the introduction of the Federal farm bills, millions in federal funds have been allocated toward the purchase of easements.  And beginning in 2011 in Northampton County, township funding has been used towards the preservation of farms in those municipalities.

 

Although the primary reason to protect important parts of the community is to ensure a high quality of life, saving farmland and saves money for the taxpayers.  Farmland preservation is a fiscally sound activity and an investment in the community’s future!

For additional information about the Farmland Preservation Program in Northampton County, please contact the office at:

Northampton County Farmland Preservation Office
14 Gracedale Avenue 
Nazareth, PA 18064-9211
(610) 746-1993      or    Fax (610) 746-5262

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