SALEM, Ohio – State Rep. Tony Core, who’s also a Logan County farmer, thinks many farmers’ situations might be a lot like his.
There’s a Honda auto factory not far away, and newer homes mark sporadic development around his acres of corn, soybeans, pasture and woodlands.
He’s not right outside of town or a major city. There’s no real imminent development pressure on his farm.
But there could be, someday. And Core wants to keep his home in an agricultural area, at least for several years.
That’s where Ohio’s new Agricultural Security Areas can help protect his farmland.
The program, effective May 18, is a result of years of work Core put into helping and letting farmers be farmers.
The new program partners township trustees and county commissioners with farmers to prohibit nonfarm development when the landowners request it.
It’s farmland preservation at the grassroots level, with decisions being made by farmers and their neighbors and their own local governments.
Through the program, one or more landowners of at least 500 adjoining farmland acres submit requests to both their township and county for enrollment into an ag security area.
The farm acreage must already be enrolled in Current Agricultural Use Valuation for tax discounts, and be part of an agricultural district.
Farmers must be using best management practices on the acreage, and must not have any civil or criminal violations of state or federal environmental law in the past 10 years.
The officials hold public hearings and accept or deny the enrollment.
Enrollment prevents extension of water and sewer lines, new roads, housing subdivisions, or commercial facilities within the Agricultural Security Area during the 10-year enrollment period.
At the same time, landowners agree the property will stay in agricultural production for the 10-year contract. The enrollment can be renewed every 10 years.
The landowners are eligible for tax abatements and can still put up new farm structures, and even additional single-family homes for relatives.
“That mutual promise between farmers and government is important,” said Rep. Core, a Republican from Rushsylvania.
“Then there’s also that promise among neighbors to stay in farming, not to sell off for development,” he said.
Ohio already has an agricultural easement program, where the state pays farmers to keep their land in production.
Since 2002, Ohio farmers have received $12.5 million in state funds and $3.3 million in federal funds for easements on just more than 10,000 acres.
However, Ohio farms sprawl across 14.6 million acres in the state, according to the 2002 Census of Agriculture. That leaves a lot of farms without development protection.
Core said the ag security area has two fundamental differences from the easement program.
Some farmers are reluctant to sell an easement on their property to the state and be forced into farming for the rest of their lives, Core said.
State and federal dollars available also limit the number of farms that can take advantage of the easement program.
Ag security areas don’t offer the same financial incentives, but the outcome is the same, Core said.
“This will be cheaper and more intermediate, not permanent,” Core said.
Core said the newest program also offers a more viable alternative to farmers in rural areas without intense development pressures.
“Why would the state spend easement money on areas where the pressure isn’t so great?” Core said. “They’ll spend it closer to urban areas,” he said.
Core, who asserts he’s not against development, said the new program is designed to encourage agriculture and industry in every community, and allow them to coexist.
“There’s some comfort in knowing development can’t happen all the way around you and drive out viable farming. There’s room for ag and commercial business in the right places,” Core said.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture will offer technical assistance in implementing the program.
The state office of farmland preservation will also track enrollment and submit an annual report to the governor and legislature.
Ag Security Areas: Key points
- One or more landowners join together to enroll at least 500 acres into the program. Land inside municipal corporations or where annexation is proposed is excluded.
- Enrollment prevents extension of water and sewer lines, new roads, housing subdivisions, or commercial facilities within the ag security area during the 10-year enrollment period.
- County commissioners and township trustees can reject any application based on an existing comprehensive plan for land use, or because the land lies in the path of previously planned roadway expansion.
- If during the first five years a landowner violates or withdraws from the ag security area, causing the parcel to drop below the 500-acre threshold, the agreement expires for all landowners. All landowners must repay tax benefits plus a penalty. If a violation happens in the last five years of the enrollment, the agreement is not dissolved.
- Any landowner who violates the terms of the program must pay a fine of $500, which is to be divided between township trustees and county commissioners equally to use for farmland preservation purposes.
- Tax exemptions and abatements may be available in certain counties for newly constructed agricultural structures.
Ohio farmland protection glossary
CAUV: Current Agricultural Use Valuation. Allows county auditors to value farmland at its ag production value rather than at its highest value, often for housing developments or industry.
Agricultural District Program: State initiative that protects farmers from special assessments and some nuisance lawsuits. Enrollment is a five-year commitment, must have minimum 10 acres in agricultural production and meet income standards. Enroll with county auditor.
Ag Security Area: New statewide program for tracts at least 500 acres. Prevents extension of water and sewer lines, new roads, housing subdivisions, or commercial facilities within the area during the 10-year enrollment period. Enroll with township trustees and county commissioners.