By DOUG GRAVES
BIG PRAIRIE, Ohio – With no intentions of selling their property to land developers, the Anderson-Douglas farm in Big Prairie, Ohio always hoped to keep their 48-acre farm forever a farm. They did just that when the family signed up for the state’s Farmland Preservation Program.
By doing so, the Anderson-Douglas farm (located between Columbus and Cleveland) became the 500th Ohio farm to be registered in Clean Ohio’s Local Agricultural Easement Purchase Program, or LAEPP.
“Ohio’s farmland is a resource we must protect,” said Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Dorothy Pelanda. “By putting properties like the Anderson-Douglas farm into Farmland Preservation, farmers are guaranteeing that future generations will have access to productive farmland where they can continue feeding people around the world.”
LAEPP provides funding to farmland owners for placing an agricultural easement on their property. Monies are issued for up to 75 percent of the appraised value of a farm’s development rights. All easement transactions are recorded on the property deed and transfer with the land to successive owners.
“This signing of a paper has turned into a big event,” said Doug Anderson, who raises cattle and hay on the farm. “Being the 500th farm is big to them, I just wanted to sign my papers and be done with it.
“I bought the farm from my dad. He bought it when I was in high school. My dad told me about this program. When dad had my grandma’s farm, he was trying to get it put into the program. He told me to come up and listen to their presentation and see what it’s about. That’s how I got involved.”
Funds from the purchase of these easements are invested in the local economy by the landowners who use them by expanding their farming operations, purchasing new equipment, reducing debt, adding conservation practices, planning for retirement, sending their children to college and other purposes. When the state purchases a farmland easement, the proceeds are plowed into Ohio’s economy and part of Ohio’s number one industry, that being agriculture.
“Agriculture is vital to Ohio and is the state’s largest economic engine generating billions of dollars annually and employing one in eight workers statewide,” said Rich Cochran, president and CEO of Western Reserve Land Conservancy. “Preserving the land upon which we grow our crops, tend our livestock and feed our families is an important part of what we do at the Land Conservancy.”
Landowners apply through pre-approved local sponsors using an online application on the ODA’s website. Each local sponsor receives a portion of the Clean Ohio funds appropriated that year to purchase easements from the highest scoring applicants in the area.
The program is highly competitive with about one in 15 applications being funded. Agricultural Conservation Easement Program funds, administered by the USDA, may be used to match Clean Ohio funds for up to 50 percent of the easement value, leveraging Clean Ohio dollars and allowing more landowners to participate in the easement program.
Katie Boyer, ODA Public Information Officer, says the program “preserves farmland as a farm indefinitely.”
“Basically, you sell the state of Ohio an easement. Although you live on it, farm it, you can even sell it to someone else, they just have to abide by the terms of the easement, which is keeping it farmland forever.”
The program stops development from happening in terms of building houses or building up around the farm. Farmers cannot search for oil and gas on their land, and there can only be certain buildings built that can help with the farming.
Individual landowners apply, and if their land meets the specifications to be in the program, then they get a sponsor. That sponsor makes sure the farmer abides by the rules of the easement.