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“Among all techniques for protecting farmland in urbanizing communities, easements hold the most promise---considering their perpetuity, voluntary participation by landowners, and the matching of public purposes and farmer interests,”

-Alvin D. Sokolow,

Agricultural Issues Center, University of CA, Davis
A National View of Agricultural Easement Programs was conducted by AFT’s Center for Agriculture in the Environment and the Agriculture Issues Center, University of California, with support from the Farm Foundation
A National View of Agricultural Easement Programs
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ARE agricultural easement programs working?

WI farmAmong advocates of farmland protection efforts, agricultural easements are now regarded as the most promising tool for dealing with urban conversion trends. Largely because of their nonregulatory and landowner compensation features, easements just in the past quarter of a century have become a widely popular technique for the express purpose of protecting farmland—and it is estimated that about 1,100,000 farmland acres nationwide have been put under easements at an approximate cost of $2.3 billion.

We know a great deal about the strategies and practices of organizing, funding, and acquiring easements—the “front end” of the agricultural easement story. What is less certain, however, is the effectiveness of the technique in reversing or minimizing the farmland conversion trend in the United States—the “back end” of the process. Considering that additional billions of federal, state, local and private sector dollars soon will be added to what has already have been spent, how do we evaluate the public benefits of this large investment?

46 programs, 15 states

American Farmland Trust and the Agricultural Issues Center of The University of California, Davis conducted the most in-depth and comprehensive analysis of agricultural easement programs undertaken in the United States by examining approximately 46 agricultural easement programs in 15 states—a majority of the leading programs in the nation in acres and individual farms covered by easements. Most are operated by county or other local governments but some are statewide programs (Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Vermont) or nonprofit land trusts in a few states. Our intent is to draw out conclusive lessons about how program methods and strategies generate more or less effective accomplishments while providing detailed profiles for each program and a comparative analysis of program performance and impacts.

The following four reports provide useful information for program managers; federal, state, and local government officials who manage easement funds; agricultural and conservation groups; and other audiences.

Report 1 - Profiles and Maps

This report reviews the progress and experiences of the 46 leading agricultural conservation easement programs that account for the majority of agricultural acres put under easement nationwide since the technique was first seriously applied to farmland protection a quarter of a century ago.

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. Read the report

Report 2 - How Programs Select Farmland to Fund

Public and private organizations that acquire perpetual easements on agricultural lands usually face the challenge of deciding how and where to place their limited and sometimes scarce dollars. Using an effective set of acquisition strategies and criteria is one key to meeting the challenge. Examining the acquisition strategies and criteria of the 46 programs, this report is based on the perceptions of program managers and other knowledgeable persons collected in extensive phone interviews and on more objective information from other sources. Read the report

Report 3 - Easements and Local Planning

When agricultural easement programs and local planning policies work together in a mutually-reinforcing fashion, they advance the cause of effective farmland protection—as well as the related public goals of efficient land use, wise use of funds and political accountability. Examining the planning connections of the 46 easement programs, this report looks at how organizational and state government frameworks influence local relationships, the linkage—or separation—of easement programs and local government planning, and influences such as coordination efforts. Read the report

Report 4 - Measuring Success in Protecting Farmland with Easements

By applying five measurements of effective farmland protection to the experiences of 46 local agriculture easement programs, this final report of the national assessment attempts to determine if agricultural easements preserve farmland from urban influences. Most of the programs have impressively protected many acres and parcels of farmland, which continue to be farmed despite later purchase by non-farmers, in many cases. Some programs have redirected or influenced urban growth. It is less clear whether these programs can claim significant influence on local agricultural economies. Read the report

American Farmland Trust