Agricultural Easements for Sustainable Agriculture

Final Report for ENE00-056

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2000: $37,175.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2002
Region: Northeast
State: New Hampshire
Project Leader:
Nada Haddad
UNH Coooperative Extension
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Project Information

Summary:

Agricultural Easements for Sustainable Agriculture aimed to increase institutional capacity to deliver education and assistance related to conservation easements that addressed the unique needs of working farms. A 20-member planning team of farmers, legislators, and state planning, historic resources, land trust, Cooperative Extension, and other USDA staff conducted an assessment of issues, experience, and research concerning the application of conservation easements on farm properties and organized a training program attended by 50 key agricultural educators and advisors, and conservation and agricultural leaders.

Input from the participants informed development of "Conserving the Family Farm: A Guide to Conservation easements for Farmers, other Agricultural Professionals, Landowners and Conservationists," by Annette Lorraine, Attorney at Law and Conservation Director of the Upper Valley Land Trust in Hanover, New Hampshire. One thousand six hundred copies of the publication have been distributed to New Hampshire towns, farmers, extension educators, and other agricultural and conservation professionals.

Now, because ofthis resource, when the question of whether or when to consider a conservation easement arises, both pro- and re- actively, resource people will know how to engage the subject. Sometimes the appropriate decision by a farm family is NOT to adopt this practice; sometimes it is. Sometimes it is dependent on funding availability. As a consequence of the project, many more easement discussions are on-going and easements that are developed on farms in New Hampshire are more apt to be farm-friendly. The book has become THE farm-related easement resource in the state.

Project Objectives:
  • The objective of the training was to develop an Agricultural Easement Program that extension educators and other resource agency staff could take to farmers, planners, attorneys, land trusts and conservation groups and be used for ongoing staff training in order to increase awareness, knowledge, and use of easements in land conservation strategies for farms.

    A minimum of 25 staff from UNH Cooperative Extension and other agencies and organizations were targeted for participation in a training conference with farmers (with and without easement experience) and land conservation specialists.

    As a result of this training participants will:

    * Learn the technical considerations related to land conservation options, particularly agricultural conservation easements.

    * Increase understanding of the economic incentives to landowners implementing land conservation on their land.

    * Increase confidence and ability to effectively communicate land conservation information to farm, conservation and community audiences.

Introduction:

The goal of this training project is to educate Cooperative Extension and other USDA field staff in the use of easements to conserve land for agriculture in New Hampshire. Through the training, professionals who work with farm landowners increased their capacity to deliver information, education, and assistance related to land conservation and estate planning that specifically addresses the needs of working farms. Increased awareness of agriculturally-friendly easements by the agricultural and conservation communities will ultimately lead to an increase in the amount of permanently protected agricultural land, maintaining its availability for farming and supporting positive economic, environmental, and social impacts to New Hampshire communities.

Generic conservation easements have been used for land protection for many years. As the experience of farmers whose land is under easement accumulates, it is clear that special flexibility is needed to accommodate changing agricultural enterprises. Commonly, conservation easements are developed to preserve land in its current state for scenic, environmental, or open space purposes. Easements on agricultural land, however, need to allow the farming enterprise to change to meet changing needs. For example, a farm that had an easement placed on it when it was a dairy may require different structures or practices if it was to be changed to a horticultural operation (perhaps requiring greenhouses, irrigation ponds, worker housing, etc.). A conservation easement that did not specifically address agricultural issues may not allow for these changes. From the farm perspective, it is important for the all the farm stakeholders to sort through myriad complex personal and business issues before making a decision to sell--or not sell--the development rights.

Agricultural conservation easements have important positive social impacts. For farm families, they can improve the ability to pass land to subsequent generations by reducing the value of the land to reflect only agricultural use rather than highest development value. Agricultural easements also ensure that farming activities will be able to continue on the property as it passes from generation to generation. Benefits also accrue to the communities in which farmland is protected through a heightened sense of community character, historic context, and scenic value as well as increased food security.

From an environmental perspective, long-term protection of farm land prevents the conversion to uses that could lead to irreversible degradation of land and water quality, such as residential, commercial, or industrial uses. Protecting farmland conserves wildlife habitats and supports conservation of biodiversity compared with the alternative land uses noted above. Conserved agricultural land can also contribute to local or regional efforts to establish reserves of protected land that include agricultural lands, managed forest land, and wild lands. Both communities and farmers benefit economically from conserved farmland.

Several studies in New Hampshire demonstrate that open space land uses such as agriculture have a positive revenue to community service cost ratio, whereas residential land uses cost communities more than the property taxes generate. There is also a correlation in the state between higher property taxes and commercial and industrial development. Land conservation can also be economically advantageous for landowners, primarily through federal income tax deductions, reduction of estate taxes, or from cash obtained through selling development rights. The economic incentives can improve the landowner’s ability to pass farmland to the next generation while minimizing the financial burden of so doing. Sale of a conservation easement can be a boost to farm businesses in need of capital improvements. Permanently protected land may also qualify for reduced property taxes.

Professionals working with farmers need to have a working knowledge of the tools available for land protection in order to counsel farmers looking for options to ensure their farm will be available for continued long-term agricultural use. They need to understand and be able to communicate the benefits and risks involved with land easements as they relate to farming in order to be effective advisors.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Lynda Brushett
  • Annette Lorraine
  • Gary Mateson
  • Lorraine Merrill
  • Frank Mitchell
  • Caroline Robinson

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

Content of the training program was determined through a formal policy assessment process led by an advisory committee of farmers, easement holders and funders, conservation professionals, and agricultural educators and advisors. After developing a thorough understanding of the issues involved, the committee developed a position paper to guide conference proceedings. Appropriate discussion leaders were identified and sessions providing maximum interaction among participants was developed. The committee created a list of 70 key agricultural and conservation leaders to invite to the conference with the expectation that 50 would attend. Using a train-the-trainer approach, the training conference addressed issues, experience, resources and research relating to conservation easements on farm properties.

Following the direction established at the conference, an attorney with easement expertise was contracted to research and write a publication which presented the issues farmers need to discuss with family members, partners, and legal, financial, and conservation advisors. The publication includes a bibliography of relevant publications, agency resources, New Hampshire state statutes, funding sources, and a fact sheet. A graphic artist was commissioned to design a cover that would appeal to farm families. The publication also serves to educate potential easement holders (land trust, conservation commission, etc.) and agricultural educators and advisors about the special issues involving the conservation of farms and farmland. For teaching and informational programs, a skit, poster, and portable exhibit supplement the publication. The New Hampshire Coalition for Sustaining Agriculture used its network to communicate information about the issue and distribute the publication. Coalition participants continue to feature programs about “Conserving the Family Farm” at their conference and training events.

Publications/Outreach

PUBLICATION
"Conserving the Family Farm: A Guide to Conservation Easements for Farmers, other Agricultural Professionals, Landowners and Conservationists," by Annette Lorraine, Attorney at Law and Conservation Director of the Upper Valley Land Trust, Hanover, NH. February 2002. 43 pages.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction to conservation easements

A. What is a conservation easement?
B. Why do landowners donate or sell conservation easements?
C. Is a conservation easement appropriate for every farm?
D. What do conservation easements mean to the larger community?
E. How does a conservation easement affect a farm operation?

2. Financial Implications of conservation easements for farm businesses
A. Valuation
B. Payments
C. Donations
D. Bargain Sales
E. Tax Effects
1. Property Taxes
2. Income Taxes
3. Estate Taxes
F. Ancillary costs related to conservation easements

3. Legal Background to conservation easements
A. Where do conservation easements fit within the law?
B. What are the legal requirements for conservation easements?
1. What kind of organization can hold a conservation easement?
2. What are the required “conservation purposes?”
3. Are conservation easements really forever?
a. Could a foreclosure on a prior existing mortgage extinguish a conservation easement?
b. Can a conservation easement ever be released or extinguished?
c. How is a conservation easement enforced?
d. What if a conservation easement holding organization goes out of business?
4. Who prepares conservation easement documents?

4. Land Management Implications of conservation easements on farms
A. Agricultural Needs
1. Farm management provisions
2. Ways to deal with agricultural structures
3. Other businesses and structures unrelated to agriculture
4. Ways to deal with residences and farm labor housing
5. What special considerations should be addressed for managed forests?
B. What other provisions might one expect to see in some conservation easements?
C. What special provisions are there for future farm affordability?
1. Rights of First Refusal
2. Options to Purchase at Agricultural Value

5. Conservation easement opportunities currently available to NH farmers
A. Working with a Land Trust
B. Grant Programs
C. Other funding sources
1. Foundation awards
2. Town funding
3. Private fundraising
D. Other land conservation techniques

Apendix

1. Resources
2. NH Statutes
3. Summary Fact Sheet (handout)
4. Funding opportunities in NH
5. NH Land Trusts Geographic Coverage (map)
6. Reprint from the Financial Partner: “When Forever is a Long, Long Time: 8 QuestionsTto Ask Before You Sell Your Development Rights"

OUTREACH

Agricultural Easements for New Hampshire Farms: A Policy Discussion held at the Shaker Inn at the Great Stone Dwelling in Enfield New Hampshire, May 23, 2001. Fifty participants. Presenters included: Steve Taylor, Commissioner, New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food; Jerry Cosgrove, American Farmland Trust; Ethan Parke, Vermont Housing and Conservation Board; Rich Hubbard, Massachusetts Agricultural Preservation Program; Peter Helm, New Hampshire Land Conservation Investment Program; Howard Patch, Dairy Farmer; Caroline Robinson, Berry Farmer; Dean Moreau, First Pioneer Farm Credit; Annette Lorraine, Upper Valley Land Trust.

Keeping New Hampshire Farms and Forests Strong and Healthy, The Center of New Hampshire, Holiday Inn, Manchester, New Hampshire, February 1, 2002. A series of programs about conservation easements and resources introduced the program, including Conservation easements For New Hampshire Farms: A Guide for Decision-Making. What are the issues a farm family needs to discuss when considering the placement of a conservation easement on the farm?

A press conference at Farm & Forest announced the publication of Conserving the Family Farm: A Guide to Conservation easements for Farmers, other Agricultural Professionals, Landowners and Conservationists, by Annette Lorraine, Attorney at Law and Conservation Director of the Upper Valley Land Trust, Hanover, New Hampshire.

Various conferences and meetings too numerous to list are being conducted around the state conducted by Coalition participants to bring the information to farmers, land trusts, communities, preservation and conservation organizations.

No milestones

Performance Target Outcomes

Outcomes

A 20-member planning team of farmers, legislators, and state planning, historic resources, land trust, Cooperative Extension and other USDA staff was organized to 1) assess issues, experience and research related to conservation easements on farm properties, and 2) determine educational needs for farmers, other agricultural professionals, and conservationists. These efforts led to a training conference exploring easement decision-making issues pertinent to farm families and businesses, easement holders, and funders. Seventy key agriculture and land-conservation leaders were invited; 50 attended--this despite the event being rescheduled from March to May due to a blizzard.

Conference participants were successful in developing a common understanding about 1) issues farm families need to consider before deciding to place an easement on agricultural properties, 2) what is involved in making provisions for agricultural uses within easements initiated or funded by non-agricultural entities, and 3) what needs to be done by all parties to the process in order to put farm-friendly easement deals together. The sharing of perspectives by easement holders, funders, and farmers led to a mutual understanding of needs and the development of strategies to accomplish mutual goals.

These were integrated into "Conserving the Family Farm: A Guide to Conservation easements for Farmers, other Agricultural Professionals, Landowners, and Conservationists," by Annette Lorraine, Attorney at Law and Conservation Director of the Upper Valley Land Trust, Hanover, New Hampshire, consisting of a manual, fact sheets, and other program materials developed for farmers, other agricultural professionals, conservationists, and land use planners. With an eye to marketing, the cover--a watercolor scene of an intergeneratinal family around the kitchen table--was designed by Karen Holman to appeal to farm families. The publication layout by Caroline Robinson makes the written material accessible to lay readers.

The publication was introduced as part of a series of programs related to agricultural easements held at the New Hampshire Farm and Forest Exposition in February 2002. It was printed in two formats, one without a cover and with binder holes for inclusion in the "Preserving Rural Character Through Agriculture Resource Kit," and one with a cover, without holes, as a stand-alone book.

The first printing of 840 copies was distributed to farmers, historic preservation and conservation groups, planners, community leaders and agricultural service providers in two months. Four public programs (Saving Community Landmarks and Landscapes on April 5, Landscapes and People: Conservation Tools for a Growing State on April 13, Office of State Planning Annual Spring Planning And Zoning Conference on April 20, and the Belknap County Conservation District Annual Meeting on May 29) shared the information with more than 300 people; 400 books were distributed by mail.

Requests for more copies lead to a successful application to the Northeast Farm Credit AgEnhancement Program for funding a second printing of 600 copies; a third printing of 200 copies has mostly been distributed and more copies are needed. The publication is available on-line at NH NRCS, UNHCE and the State Office of Historic Resources web sites.

Programs with farmers, land trusts, and conservation districts are ongoing into the winter and spring of 2003. Programming is being accomplished by the collaborative efforts of NH Coalition for Sustaining Agriculture organizations:

Natural Resource Conservation Service
New Hampshire Association of Conservation Districts
New Hampshire Farm Bureau Federation, Inc.
New Hampshire Natural Organic Farmers Association
Universioty of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension
New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets and Foods
New Hampshire State Conservation Committee
New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources
New Hampshire Office of State Planning
North Country Resource Conservation & Development Area
Southern New Hampshire Resource Conservation & Development Area
Farm Service Agency
Center for Land Conservation
Beginner Farmers of New Hampshire
Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests
The Trust for Public Lands
First Pioneer Farm Credit
American Farmland Trust

The Stratham, New Hampshire Conservation Commission, with leadership from three farmers, used the book in its successful effort to win town meeting approval for a $5 million bond for the acquisition of conservation easements. Following on the Stratham success, citizen committees in other communities are using the publication with farmers and to obtain voter approval for land and easement acquisition programs. The state’s Land Conservation Heritage Investment Program is using the book to determine its approach to farm easements. A farmer used the publication to settle a dispute over his ability to plant apple trees on conserved land in Hampton, New Hampshire. NRCS and extension staff report using the publication with farmers while conservation organizations are sharing the information with local land trusts and landowners. The Cooperative Extension fruit specialist used the publication to help a family think through land conservation options for their orchard.

The American Farmland Trust is using the publication in a leadership training on agricultural land preservation issues for professionals in New England and New York.

The aim of this program was to educate those who work with farmers so that when the question of whether or when to consider a conservation easement arises, both pro- and re- actively, a resource person would know how to engage the subject. Sometimes the appropriate decision by a farmer is NOT to adopt this practice; sometimes it is. Sometimes it is dependent on funding availability. We do know that there are many discussions on-going as a consequence of this program. And we know that easements that are developed on farms in New Hampshire will be farm-friendly. The book has become THE farm related easement resource in the state.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.