SALEM, Ohio – Bureaucratic delays have temporarily stalled the funding of new farmland preservation easements across Ohio, and more paperwork will crowd those as another application deadline quickly approaches.
The state department of agriculture will accept applications for the second round of Clean Ohio agricultural easement purchases through April 30.
Most counties are pushing deadlines of early April to allow for screening before forwarding applications to the state, according to Melanie Wilt, spokesperson for the department.
Applications must be reviewed by county or local government or charitable entities before moving to the state level.
Still waiting. The first round of funding was announced Jan. 29 and included $1.7 million in state funds and $1.6 million in federal funds from the Federal Farmland Protection Program.
Easements were purchased on six Ohio farms totaling more than 1,850 acres in the first round.
Eighteen other applications were also selected and a hearing with the state controlling board to approve funding was to be scheduled shortly thereafter.
That hearing is yet to be scheduled, according to Wilt, who described the holdup as “nothing unusual or unexpected.”
“We hope to go forward with [the earlier 18] before the new round is due and put them to bed before the second deadline,” she said.
New guides. The application process has been tweaked for the second round, according to Howard Wise, executive director of the office of farmland preservation.
The main change is in the tier one rankings.
In the last funding round, farms were valued by an appraiser’s comparable sales method.
The new points-based appraisal method allows farmers to know what the value of their easement is in advance.
The new form was approved Jan. 7 by the 12-member farmland preservation advisory board. Wise noted that applicants should be sure to use the most updated applications and ranking data, available from the department and on the Web.
A worksheet in the application guides applicants through basic mathematical steps to arrive at the dollar amount the state might be willing to pay.
Biggest change. The points-based method is the most important change, Wise said.
It eliminates hiring appraisers at a cost or $1,800 to $2,000 per farm.
“It will also tell the farmer, the community and the department the price right up-front and eliminate a lot of uncertainty,” Wise said.
The method will also save time, leading those selected to sell easements to get their payments up to four months earlier than recipients in the first round of funding.
“This is a pilot program, and as the name implies, this is the time to experiment,” Wise said.
Evaluate value. Through the program, the state department of agriculture can elect to purchase up to 75 percent of the appraised value of the farm.
Local sponsors or the landowner must match or donate the remaining 25 percent.
State caps limit the program to one award per landowner; a maximum of $3,000 per acre; and a maximum of $1 million per landowner per funding round, according to the application.
No more than $1 million may be awarded to any one county per funding year.
One farm in each Fairfield and Butler county were awarded the million-dollar easement in January.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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