Clean Ohio Fund: Farmland easements wait begins

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SALEM, Ohio – It’s now a waiting game for the more than 400 landowners across Ohio who applied to sell easements on their farm land to the state. It’s also a working time for Office of Farmland Preservation officials as they open and process each application manually, one at a time.

“Response has been phenomenal. We’ve received a lot more applications than we ever thought,” said Howard Wise, executive director of the Office of Farmland Preservation within the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

“There were a lot of skeptics and people saying there wouldn’t be interest in the program. They’re dead wrong. The interest is overwhelming and is affirmation of the need for the program,” Wise said.

Application deadline for the Agricultural Easement Purchase Program, created by the Clean Ohio Fund, was April 30.

Data revealing the number of applications submitted by each county was not immediately available.

Given scores. Officials are currently scoring applications on first-round criteria, including awarding points to land that is close to other agricultural lands, especially those that are protected from development pressures; land with valuable soil types, including locally unique or important soils, microclimates, or similar features; farms where agricultural best management practices are in use; where local comprehensive land use plans identify areas for agricultural protection; and land that faces development pressures, but is not directly in the path of urban development.

Tier 2 rankings will be used after first-round scoring and “in the event that there are more applicants than can be funded in any given year” to reach a composite score for recommendations.

Second criteria. At the second level, points are awarded for applicant narratives that describe an operation’s long-term investments as they relate to continued operation of the farm; local measures to preserve farmland; and estate or farm succession plans in place.

Additional points are awarded for implemented business management or conservation programs and the farm’s general location and infrastructure, support services and facilities.

Applicants not chosen for funding can reapply each year. The preservation office plans “to try to make it easy to reapply and recognize as much work as already put in,” to reduce paperwork for the next round of funding, according to Wise.

Advisory committee. An advisory board will meet in late May to conduct the next level of rankings and make funding recommendations to Ohio Director of Agriculture Fred Dailey.

The broad-based committee consists of four farmer representatives and eight representatives drawn from local governments, charitable organizations, farm organizations, developers, land use planners, and environmental protection interests.

The 12 board members are: Jill K. B. Clark, American Farmland Trust; Mike Cochran, Ohio Township Association; Paul DeArman, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; Patti Eshman, Ohio Home Builders Association; Larry Frimerman, Three Valley Conservation Trust; Paul Harrison, Seneca Regional Planning Commission;

Glenn Lackey, farmer, representing southeastern Ohio farmers; Larry Libby, Ohio State University agricultural economist; Larry Long, County Commissioners Association; Kevin O’Reilly, Geauga County, representing northeastern Ohio farmers; Roger Rhonemus, Adams County Commissioner, representing southwest Ohio farmers; and Harold Weihl, farmer, representing northwest Ohio farmers.

Bankroll grants. The $400 million Clean Ohio Fund, a result of Gov. Taft’s signing of House Bill 3 in July 2001 and passage of a state ballot issue in November, includes a bankroll of $25 million to be spent in the next four years to help keep productive farmland available for agricultural production by purchasing land easements from voluntary applicants.

Grants will be issued for up to 75 percent of the appraised value of the easement, and applicants must provide matching funds for at least 25 percent of the remaining value. The farmer may also donate that portion of the value of the easement. The maximum state grant cannot exceed $1 million per easement.

Remaining funds are earmarked for cleanup of abandoned industrial sites and related projects.

(You can contact Andrea Myers at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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