Ohio receives first share of federal farmland preservation funds

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LONDON, Ohio – With its own farmland preservation funding in place, Ohio is finally in position to receive a slice of the federal pie of farmland preservation funds.

The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Ohio presented the Ohio Department of Agriculture with a ceremonial check for $1.6 million during last week’s Farm Science Review, representing the first time Ohio will receive funding through the federal Farmland Protection Program.

Requires state match. The federal program provides matching funds to states, local governments and other organizations with existing farmland preservation programs to purchase conservation easements. The Natural Resources Conservation Service is the lead agency implementing the federal program.

The federal program received $35 million nationally in the last farm bill, said Kevin Brown, state conservationist with the NRCS in Ohio. The current farm bill allots $985 million for farmland preservation.

The $400 million Clean Ohio Fund provides the initial $25 million for Ohio’s program, which is administered through the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Office of Farmland Preservation.

Easement purchases. The federal dollars will be added to the $6.25 million earmarked for the first year of Ohio’s agricultural easement purchase, or purchase of development rights, program now under way.

In exchange for payment, landowners voluntarily agree to limit future development of their land for nonagricultural use. These permanent easements can also be donated and, according to Ohio Director of Agriculture Fred L. Dailey, 13 Ohio landowners have opted to make donations of that development value, rather than seek compensation.

More than 440 landowner applications were submitted in Ohio’s first round of the program last spring, Dailey said. Only a few will be funded, he added, because, at an estimated $2,000 per acre, it would take more than $126 million to purchase all the acreage submitted by those applicants.

Turned down. Appraisals are currently being done to determine the fair market value of the land seeking protection in the top ranked applications. Dailey said one appraisal was just completed and sent to a Fulton County farmer, who ultimately did not accept the appraisal value and turned down the Ohio program funds.

“A farmer still needs to be realistic about the value of his land,” Dailey emphasized.

Applications not funded in the first round must be resubmitted next year for consideration in the second round of funding. The program will continue for at least three more years, with $6.25 million provided annually in state funding.

Additional federal funding will also be made available in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, and in subsequent years. “We hope to get more than our fair share,” NRCS’ Brown said. Ohio initially requested $8.8 million through the federal Farmland Protection Program.

Ranked by criteria. Four of the top 10 ranked farms applying in the Ohio program are located in Fulton County. The Portage County farm of John and Nancy Groselle is ranked second; in Ashland County, the farm of Nancy and Larry Kline is ranked fifth statewide; Wayne County landowners James and Deborah Morris are ranked seventh; and a farm owned by Ralph Knippenberg of Portage County ranked 10th in the final application scoring.

The additional federal funds just received means Ohio can go “further down the list” in granting easement requests, Dailey said.

For information on the state farmland preservation program, call the Ohio Department of Agriculture at 1-800-282-1955 or 614-728-6210, or visit www.state.oh.us/agr/ or www.state.oh.us/CleanOhioFund/.

(Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 1-800-837-3419 or at editorial@farmanddairy.com.)

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