FAQ

WHAT IS AN AGRICULTURAL CONSERVATION EASEMENT?

An agricultural conservation easement is the landowner's right to prevent the development or the improvement of the land for any purpose other than agricultural production. When conservation easements are sold to a county land preservation board it gives the county the right to say "no" to development.

HOW WOULD PURCHASING AGRICULTURAL CONSERVATION EASEMENTS PRESERVE AGRICULTURE?

It would provide compensation to farmers for the development value of farmland they preserve in long-term agricultural use. By selling conservation easements the farmer would receive the development value of the property without having to sell the farm for development. Purchasing agricultural conservation easements provides a long-term, permanent, solution to farmland conversion.

WHO DETERMINES THE VALUE OF AGRICULTURAL EASEMENTS?

State certified general real estate appraisers are retained by the county land preservation board to determine the market value and farmland value of the property. The difference between the market value and the farmland value is the conservation easement value. A farmer who disagrees with the appraiser has the right to retain another independent appraisal, at his expense. Differences between the two appraisals are recalculated according to a state formula worksheet which will allow the County Board to offer a second easement purchase offer, or the original offer. Note: A current cap of $4,500 per acre is now in effect in York County.

HOW LONG ARE THE AGRICULTURAL CONSERVATION EASEMENTS FOR?

Today, agricultural conservation easements are sold in perpetuity, or, forever.

CAN A FARMER BUY BACK THE CONSERVATION EASEMENT?

The purpose of the easement program is the long term preservation of productive farmland. Today easements are purchased for perpetuity and are not intended to ever be sold or changed. In rare instances, a perpetual easement may be repurchased after a minimum of 25 years with State and County Board approval, provided the land is no longer feasible to farm. However, it is most reasonable to expect that all farms will remain feasible to farm, although the farm operation may be very different.

WHAT ARE THE FARMER'S RIGHT'S AFTER SELLING THE CONSERVATION EASEMENT?

The right to develop, or prevent development, is only one of the many rights in a property owner's "bundle of right's". Some of the right's in the bundle are the right to sell, lease, mortgage, leave to heirs, mineral rights, air, and surface right's, etc. After selling a conservation easement, the owner retains ownership of the farm and all other rights of ownership, however, he must continue to use the property for commercial agriculture. The landowner also is permitted to construct one additional residential structure for himself, an immediate family member, or an employee of the farm.

Selling the conservation easement would not prevent the construction of buildings for agricultural purposes. Note all Township Ordinances regarding building and construction must be followed. Customary part-time and off-season rural enterprises may not be affected. In addition, coal, oil, and gas exploration, as well as, granting right-of-ways for utilities or transporting coal, oil, and gas would be unaffected by the easement sale. Granting a private right of way is strictly prohibited.

WHAT LAND IS ELIGIBLE FOR CONSERVATION EASEMENT SALE?

Only farmland duly enrolled within ASA's, containing at least 500 acres, and meeting the minimum eligibility criteria as established by the York County Conservation Easement Program Guidelines, are eligible. See the eligibility criteria. Enrollment is voluntary and requires permission by all the owners of record of the farmland tract, as well as, lender's.

Priorities for purchasing agricultural conservation easements are determined by the County and State Boards, but programs must consider the following: quality of farmland, likelihood of conversion within the next 20 years, proximity to preserved farmland tracts, stewardship of the land, and fair, equitable, objective and nondiscriminatory procedures.

DO I HAVE TO MAINTAIN A SOIL/WATER CONSERVATION PLAN ON THE FARM?

Yes. According to the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law, a soil and water conservation plan is required on every tract of land involving the plowing or tillage of soil, as well as, any disturbance of soil. Today this requirement includes not only cropland, but pastureland and barnyard areas too. The York County Conservation Easement Program requires a conservation plan for application to the program with at least 50% of the plan implemented.

HOW IS FARMLAND PRESERVATION IN PENNSYLVANIA FUNDED?

Current funds for PA's Farmland Preservation Program come from the county, state, and federal sources. State Growing Greener Bonds and the 2 cent tax on every pack of cigarettes sold in Pennsylvania are some of the state sources. These funds provide the State portion of the funds to every county participating in the farmland preservation program. York County funds agricultural land preservation through its' general funds or bonds. Federal funds are also allocated for farmland preservation since the passage of the 1996 Federal Farm Bill, through the Federal Farm and Ranchlands Protection Program (FRPP).

WHO WILL ENSURE THAT THE DEED RESTRICTIONS ARE MAINTAINED?

The County Board has the primary responsibility of ensuring that the easement restrictions are maintained. Annual inspections are required by the State and are conducted by County Ag Land Preserve Staff. Landowners will be notified by certified mail prior to inspection visits. The State has the option of conducting additional inspections of easements, if a violation is suspected. The county must complete an annual inspection report on each farm which is submitted to the landowner(s) and the state, as well as a year-end report.

MUST I APPLY EVERY YEAR?

No. A new application is not required each year, unless a change in acreage, land use, ownership, or farm operator occurs. The application must be updated each year as to the annual gross farm income to maintain eligibility. Ongoing application reviews and updates will automatically occur throughout the year. Scores will be posted regularly in the Ag Land Preserve Board Office.

DO I PAY TAXES ON EASEMENT FUNDS?

Yes. The easement money you receive will be viewed as income by the IRS and capital gains tax must declared for the year due. You are strongly encouraged to seek tax advice from your accountant or legal counsel to determine your tax liability.

If you have further questions about the York County Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, please contact Patty McCandless, Director at 717-840-7400, or write, York County Agricultural Land Preservation Board, 118 Pleasant Acres Road Suite F York, PA 17402