Farmers share their story of preserving land

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Selling the easement on your farm through a state or farmland preservation program may be easier than most people think.

Although competition for funds can be difficult, the process is very doable and helps ensure rural acreage will remain in farm production, three veterans of preserved farms testified in Columbus on Nov. 5, during the 10th annual Ohio Farmland Preservation Summit.

Success stories

Fred Cannon, of Wayne County, Jim Fulton, of Green County, and Jarvis Babcock, of Lorain County, all own farms with different acreage and histories, but they agreed on one thing: Preserving farms against nonfarm development is the right choice.

Cannon bought his farm in southern Wayne County in 1979, and operated it as a dairy until someone offered to buy his herd in 1998. He sold the cows and calves, but committed himself to protecting the buildings and land.

A past commissioner for the county, Cannon owns a barn restoration business and said it bothers him to see farm property uncared for.

“It just tore us up and it tears me up today, to realize that we don’t have the foresight of what we’re doing to this state and to many states, he said.”

Fulton, 82, said his family has owned the same farm since 1917, an investment he wanted to see protected. His farm was preserved through the Tecumseh Land Trust and the federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program.

“I worked all my life trying to get it cleaned up and neat and everything,” he said. “This program, I think is real good.”

Babcock, 78, said his family’s farm dates back to the early 1800s, a legacy he and his two sisters decided was too important to let slip away. Together, they own nearly 1,000 acres and were concerned future generations may not value keeping it in production as much as they do.

Already, Babcock can see the results of development in most directions of his farm, especially to the south in Medina County, where houses have rapidly replaced farmland. “Now, they’re growing houses instead of milk,” Babcock said.

“My sisters and I decided if anybody was going to preserve the farm it was going to have to be our generation.”

Options for landowners

The panel was moderated by Julia Musson, associate director of conservation funding with Western Reserve Land Conservancy. Many of her questions to the panelists were geared toward the process of being selected into a preservation program, and the steps landowners take.

Musson said there are two primary ways a farm’s easement is acquired, either through the state’s Agricultural Easement Purchase Program (or donation program), or through the Federal Farm and Ranchlands Program.

The state program, frequently called AEPP, provides landowners the chance to apply for a purchase of their property up to 75 percent of the determined value, with the remaining 25 percent coming from a local funds match. However, to be competitive, applicants often give up as much as 50 percent of what they are offered.

Farmers interested in applying usually meet with a designated local government official, who helps them fill out applications and guides them through the process. This help makes it a practical decision, each panelist said.

Help available

Babcock said landowners “shouldn’t have any fears or second thoughts” about the process.

“The application is fairly intimidating,” he continued, “but I had help going through that and filling it out.”

Cannon said he and his wife met as a family and everyone decided it was the way to go. “It was an easy decision because the whole family agreed,” he said. “I have no regrets that we did it, absolutely none.”

Panelists said the long-term goal of farmland preservation is to get large blocks of farmland preserved, to keep out nonfarm development, but also to make the land practical for agricultural production.

Can keep farming

The purchases by law protect the land against nonfarm development into perpetuity. Some owners are concerned of changes to the farm after they sell the easements, but as long as they keep it in farm production, owners can still build ag-related buildings and tend to the property as they would have before.

Babcock said “you are essentially allowed to keep doing what you have been doing,” which includes putting up new buildings, crop rotation and most other things.

Next generation

With all three panelists at least 60 years old, they’re committed to the next generation of farms, and making sure there’s still some around.

“One thing we all have in common, we’re all going to die,” Cannon said. “It’s not what we take from this land, it’s what we leave that matters.”

About the Author

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties. More Stories by Chris Kick

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