By Tom Driscoll, Director of Conservation Policy and NFU Foundation

As discussed in previous Climate Column articles, specific practices, like no-till farming and planting cover crops, allow farmers to mitigate and adapt to climate change. However, in many instances, simply keeping land in production will secure important climate benefits. The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) can help producers and communities contending with high development pressure realize such goals.

Through ACEP, NRCS provides funds to non-profits and state, tribal, or local governments to purchase easements that protect farm or grazing lands from development. Climate benefits achieved by protecting productive agricultural land will vary by location, but may include:

  • Holding more land available to store atmospheric carbon through soil health endeavors
  • Mitigating flooding and water quality challenges communities face due to increased extreme precipitation events
  • Buffering sprawl development that leads to greater greenhouse gas emissions
  • Maintaining a level of local or regional food security in case more frequent and destructive weather disasters jeopardize community access to larger food systems

Benefits depend on climate, topography, and conservation practices, among other variables, but in any location, protecting agricultural land can make a significant environmental difference. As an example, a 2015 study executed by American Farmland Trust determined that urban land uses generate an average of 58 times more greenhouse gas emissions per acre than farming in California.

Producers and landowners can also secure easements for wetlands through ACEP. Wetlands can be an important tool in mitigating climate change, and wetlands easements may assist some producers coping with changing precipitation.

Producers interested in making sure agricultural land stays in production for climate benefits or numerous other reasons can connect with government bodies and land-focused nonprofits to see whether they participate in ACEP and if the program might help them increase capacity. Learn more about the program from NRCS here.

Are you a producer who has considered an agricultural conservation easement? Did you find it to be a good fit for your operation? Why or why not? Please share your experience in the comment section!


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