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USDA investing $138 million in smart-climate easement funding
 
By Michele F. Mihaljevich
Indiana Correspondent

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Landowners in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan and 17 other states are eligible for a USDA program designed to help them conserve prime farmlands, grassland and wetlands.
The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) has two components: agricultural land easements (ALE) and wetland reserve easements (WRE). ALE provides financial assistance to eligible entities such as land trusts and state and local units of government to purchase easements that protect the agricultural use and conservation values of eligible land by limiting non-agricultural uses of the land, USDA said. WRE allows private and tribal landowners to protect, restore and enhance wetlands that have been degraded due to agricultural uses, according to the agency.
The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will invest about $138 million in 138 new climate-smart conservation easements. The funding comes from the Inflation Reduction Act, the largest climate investment in history, USDA said.
“Preserving your land in perpetuity through a conservation easement provides a lasting legacy for generations to come,” Cindy Suseland, easement acquisition manager for the NRCS Indiana office, told Farm World. “Wetland reserve easements provide habitat for migratory waterfowl as well as threatened and endangered plants and animals, improve water quality by filtering sediment and chemicals from runoff, provide resilience to climate change, all while maintaining the landowners right to quiet enjoyment of their land.
“Similarly, agricultural land easements protect productive working lands from being converted to non-agricultural uses, ensure viable food supplies, encourage historic preservation, create wildlife habitat, and protect open spaces from urban sprawl. Landowners can continue to farm and rest easy knowing the land they have carefully tended will be cared for in a similar manner in perpetuity.”
Indiana is receiving about $10.6 million for fiscal year 2024, Suseland said. The money will be used for 17 wetland easement projects, USDA said.
Indiana has a minimum application size of 15 acres, she said. There is no limit to how much land an owner can put into an easement, but size may be limited by funding availability, Suseland said.
NRCS said it prioritized land that will most reduce, capture, avoid or sequester carbon dioxide, methane or nitrous oxide emissions.
These projects were selected by NRCS:
- High threat of conversion to a non-agricultural use: Illinois, Kentucky, and six other states (ALE projects)
- Lands with organic soils and high carbon mineral soils: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and four other states (WRE projects)
- Restored native forest habitat: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and five other states (WRE)
- Existing native forest habitat: Indiana, and five other states (WRE)
- Restored grassland habitat: Indiana, Iowa, and one other state (WRE)
- High threat of conversion to a non-grassland use: seven states, none in the primary Farm World coverage area (ALE)
Other states that will receive funding are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
NRCS will assist with 50 percent of the cost of the easement purchase but will not hold the ALE easement, Suseland noted.
“NRCS will coordinate boundary surveys, conduct title searches, acquire title insurance and record the easement at NRCS cost to the landowner for WRE,” she explained. “For ALE, NRCS will coordinate with the landowner and eligible entity who will assist with acquisition and closing costs.”
Property enrolled in ALE or WRE may be sold, and the easement transfers with the property, she noted. Landowners control access to the land and may lease it for hunting, fishing or other undeveloped recreational activities, Suseland added.
The landowner retains the right to manage access to the easement, she pointed out. The easement will be clearly marked with signs to identify the boundary.
NRCS accepts applications for ALE and WRE easements continuously. For more information, contact a local district conservationist or visit www.nrcs.usda.gov.

4/2/2024