Land Protection Projects

AFT is itself an agricultural land trust, having permanently protected almost 200 properties in 25 states (totaling over 70,000 acres) using agricultural conservation easements.

AFT’s Role

In our role as an agricultural land trust, we:

  • Steward and manage AFT’s current portfolio (100 easements on 40,696 acres in 20 states)
  • Acquire new conservation easements to protect important agricultural land
  • Partner with other land trusts on joint projects, or where AFT’s specialized assistance is sought
  • Assign easements to other land trusts when it is strategic to do so.

AFT is proud of the farms and ranches we have protected

AFT views each of our easements as a partnership with the landowner. The best agricultural easements are written with a great deal of flexibility, to allow for future barns, fencing, land clearing, and other structures or activities essential for farming and ranching. AFT staff work with the landowner to make sure these property improvements can be undertaken in a manner that fully respects the terms of the easement. We also visit each property at least once a year, maintaining close ties with the landowner.

Protected Farms

AFT began accepting easements when few agricultural land trusts existed, and for that reason, once accepted easements broadly. But as we helped create state and regional land trusts, we increasingly passed along this work to these qualified local entities.

AFT no longer undertakes as many on-the-ground farmland protection projects as we once did. But we still play a critical role in select farmland protection projects, and we accept easements in select instances, including:

  • in locations where another agricultural land trust doesn’t operate,
  • in partnership with another land trust (generally a group that is working to increase its capacity or knowledge of agriculture),
  • when the easement project involves some kind of innovation or novel provision that AFT is uniquely qualified to take on, or
  • when the easement project is directly connected to some other AFT function or program (e.g., AFT may want to hold an easement on property that is being protected specifically to enhance pollinator habitat when there is a direct connection to AFT’s pollinator project).

National Agricultural Land Network

AFT recognizes that there are large parts of the United States not served by other agricultural land trusts and seeks to fill this void. This is an essential role when the goal is to advance protection of agricultural lands all across this nation. Beyond this, AFT’s work as a land trust grounds us in the ever-changing realities of agricultural land protection, enabling us to be more effective at advocating for federal and state farmland protection policies and funding, and assisting other land trusts through the National Agricultural Land Network.

National Agricultural Land Network

Because of AFT’s success advancing other entities that protect agricultural land, AFT can now engage in easement deals far more selectively—focusing on those that wouldn’t happen without AFT. But although the number of projects may be low, the strategic importance is high.

Given the need for protecting farmland, it’s essential that no viable project slip because another land trust is not positioned to take it on. And it’s critical that AFT continue to experiment with innovative ways of protecting farmland (including novel easement provisions), so that we can continue our traditional role of sharing best practices with the land trust community.

And finally, because AFT is the primary advocate for federal funding of agricultural easements, it’s essential that AFT continue to take on projects—as that brings first hand knowledge and credibility to our policy work.