By Jimmy Dula, NFU Intern

As land values in many parts of the county continue to rise, and as urban development threatens rural landscapes, county governments have begun taking stewardship of farmland and its development rights in order to make the land available to farmers. Though programs vary in structure and funding, they share the objectives of conserving soil and water, curbing development, and maintaining farmland in agriculture.

Two counties in my home state of Colorado – Pitkin County and Boulder County – have each successfully developed land lease programs over the last two decades. Boulder County leases over 25,000 acres of farmland, and, according to Pitkin County’s agriculture and conservation administrator Paul Holsinger, Pitkin County leases about 350 acres. These programs help farmers access land that otherwise might not be affordable, as they would likely be outbid by developers with deep pockets.

Morris County, New Jersey, began its permanent preservation program in 1987 with the purchase of a 14-acre farm. Since then, the county has preserved more than 100 farms, and currently leases more than 6,470 acres to farmers. Morris County’s program was so successful that New Jersey’s Department of Agriculture adopted and expanded the Farmland Preservation Program, which allows landowners to sell their development rights to the State Agriculture Development Committee, County Agriculture Development Boards, municipalities, and nonprofit organizations. This program also permits the State Agricultural Development Committee to purchase farmland and then auction it to a private owner with agricultural deed restrictions in place to ensure its permanent preservation.

Are there local or state government programs in your area that provides theses services? If not, do you think they could be useful for your community? Let us know in the comments!

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  • I am very interested in promoting this idea in Vernon County WI. We have a lovely 160 acre county owned farm on the edge of town (Viroqua) that is rented to local farmers and has been planted continuously to corn and soy since I moved here 10 years ago. Three years ago taxpayers spent $10,000 to repair gullies. It is time for a change, and this property is in the middle of a large concentration of organic vegetable farms, Organic Valley Dairy, Westby Cooperative Creamery, farmer-grazing initiatives plus one of the historic centers of the land conservation movement.

  • There are several non-profits that will hold conservation easements in Ohio, meaning that the land cannot ever be developed. Unfortunately there is no commitment to keep the land in agriculture. We have a conservation easement on our farm, but I am looking into the possibilities of starting some kind of community land trust. Sustainable Iowa Land Trust is starting with donated farms. A land trust of this type would allow young farmers to build up equity in land they didn’t own. Ohio Farmers Union just passed a resolution calling for the state to put the prison farms into a CRT favoring young farmers, but they’ll probably just be sold.

    • Mardy, You’re correct in stating that SILT: the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust is accepting land donations, as well as conservation ag easement donations to preserve working farmland in food production. Our model regarding out right donations of land allows for a severing of the land from the house, business & equipment/infrastructure. SILT owns the land, while the farmer is able to build equity in the home, business & equipment/infrastructure. When that farmer is ready to retire, they can sell the home/business/infrastructure at its increased value w/ the caveat that the next owner must be a farmer interested in sustainable food production. Without the cost of the land in the mortgage, the farmer has a much smaller payment each month, making access for a beginning farmer less onerous. The farmers are also given long-term, inheritable leases with favorable terms for increased sustainable practices.
      In the case of a conservation ag easement, use of the land is restricted in the deed to only sustainable food farming. By eliminating competition from development pressures, the value of the land is decreased and, again, made more accessible to farmers who are looking for this kind of enterprise. Plus there are huge tax benefits, both state and federal, for making these conservation ag donations. For more information on SILT, please visit us aw
      Thanks, Sheila Knoploh-Odole, Executive Director, SILT – 3315 70th St., Urbandale, IA 50310, 515-278-0550

  • I do not own a farm. Very I terested in finding one and any programs that will assist me in obtaining one or the funding to obtain one. Maybe one underutilized or needs an owner.
    Any information would be appreciated.

    Thank you,
    Kimberling Raikes

  • Thanks for the shout-out for SILT, Mardy. Kimberly – try the National Young Farmers Coalition. They put out an email every few months of land trust land available for farming.

    What creates truly secure land access and good stewardship are long-term leases with some mechanism for building equity. On land SILT owns we offer long-term (20-year) leases and equity in the house, barn and of course business. (see’s ground lease model and who else is using it.) On land with SILT easements we can only encourage landowners to offer them, but that seems to be helping. Both of these reduce the cost of land for beginning and disadvantaged farmers, but they are still relatively new models, especially for sustainable food production. Young farmers are excited about it though. No hang ups about having to own their own land or anything like it that we hear from some older folks.

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