Editor’s note: This is the second installment in our four-part look at Ohio’s farmland preservation efforts.)
If development of farmland across our country continues unchecked, our environment, agricultural economy and heritage is threatened.
There are many possible actions for those who realize the consequences of unplanned development – things that can be done by individuals, families, private and governmental organizations. Most of these options can be done alone or in different combinations. Some are short-term, while others permanent.
Three of the ways to help preserve farmland preservation in Ohio are Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV), agricultural districts and agricultural security areas.
Of the three, probably the most well known program is the CAUV.
Real estate taxes. Started more than 30 years ago, CAUV permits approved land in agriculture to be assessed at a lower agricultural value for determining real estate taxes.
An Ohio-sponsored program, it is implemented on the county level with certain restrictions. There must be 10 or more acres devoted to agriculture or if less than 10 acres, there must be an average gross agricultural income of at least $2,500.
The property tax relief is critical because it lowers a farm’s operating expenses. Farmers already contend with low profit margins because of ever-increasing costs of fuel, fertilizer, equipment, etc. However the prices received for crops, livestock and other commodities have risen little over the years.
Current situation. The CAUV program was approved by voters with an amendment to the Ohio Constitution. Now, this tax relief is being threatened because of the need to fund increasing state and local budgets, especially for schools. According to Bob Gibbs, the state representative for Ashland County, even some members of the Ohio legislature are saying the farmer is not paying his share of taxes.
Even with the reduced tax rate, agricultural land owners still pay more dollars into taxes for public services than they receive.
The American Farmland Trust in the mid-1980s developed Cost of Community Services studies. Their research over 20 years shows that “working and other open lands may generate less revenue than residential, commercial or industrial properties, but they require little public infrastructure and fewer services.”
On average, residential land uses do not cover their costs and their research reveals that in general for every tax dollar paid, working and open lands require 36 cents worth in services and residential needs cost $1.15.
Agricultural districts. Lesser known agricultural districts are similar to CAUV in that both are administered by the county level, are for 10 or more acres (unless qualified by income) and help to protect farmland.
Property owners must apply separately for either program and be sure to submit a simple renewal form, annually for CAUV and every five years for the agricultural district.
There is a penalty if land is withdrawn from either program before the renewal time.
Advantages. There are many advantages for a farm if it is qualified as an agricultural district. Special assessments for utilities such as water, sewer and electric lines may be deferred and utility companies must do environmental impact studies before installing lines.
The Ohio Revised Code gives special consideration for nuisance lawsuits regarding complaints about generally accepted agricultural practices, such as animal odors or tractor noise.
Being an agricultural district offers limited protection from eminent domain and certain zoning regulations for farm market operators as well as limited relaxation of air pollution laws.
Agricultural security areas. Effective in May 2005, another option was added to the list for those individuals and communities who are concerned about the disappearance of farm lands.
H.B. 414, championed by lead sponsor Rep. Tony Core, allows farmland owners in unincorporated areas to enroll in agricultural security areas (ASAs) to promote more permanent and viable farming operations. Basically, it creates special areas where agriculture is encouraged and protected.
The ASA concept dates back to 1965 and 16 other states have similar legislation.
Ten-year agreement. The program is a partnership of landowners, township trustees and county commissioners for a term of 10 years. In general, the farmers voluntarily agree not to initiate any nonagricultural development on their land, with some exceptions for things that would not impair the ability to farm.
Local elected officials commit not to initiate, approve or finance any nonfarm development such as extending water and sewer lines, building new roads, housing subdivisions, commercial or industrial facilities. The local officials may offer real property tax exemption for new or expanded farm buildings.
An agricultural security area needs a minimum of 500 contiguous acres of one or more landowners.
The short-term allows for periodic reassessment of the landowners and community needs. This program is not permanent and it possible to withdraw, but there are penalties.
The farms must be enrolled in CAUV and as an agricultural district.
Also there is a requirement to follow approved management practices for conservation that are generally accepted in the agricultural industry.
(Next week: Everything you ever wanted to know about conservation easements.)
About the author: Judy Kocab is a writer and advocate for farmland preservation education. She and her husband have placed their 120-acre Ashland County farm in a permanent conservation easement with a land trust.