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 the County or State Ag 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 $ 3,000 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, the farm must continue to be used for commercial agricultural production.  The landowner also is permitted to construct one additional residential structure for himself, an immediate family member, or an employee of the farm.  Note with the adoption of Act 33 of 2019, landowners may subdivide off an existing house located on a preserved farm.  However, this removal of a house, which predates preservation, is in lieu of constructing the additional residential structure granted by the conservation easement.

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 Agricultural Security Areas (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 for preservation.  See the Eligibility Criteria.  Enrollment is voluntary and requires permission by all the owners of record of the farmland tract, as well as, your lender.

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. See the Farmland Ranking System.

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

Yes. According to the amended Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law, a soil and water conservation plan, or, an AG Erosion & Sedimentation 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 or the Ag E&S Plan for application to the program with at least 50% of the plan implemented.  See our Conservation Information Packet for more specifics.

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, Environmental Stewardship Fund, and a 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 funding to every county participating in the farmland preservation program. York County funds agricultural land preservation with the passage of a December 2019 Resolution formalizing the York County Open Space and Land Preservation Committee and the dedicated 0.1 mill in the County Budget to preserve ag and open space.  Additional county funds include interest on Clean & Green violation penalties collected.  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. Inspections are required every other year on State and County funded easements.   Inspections are conducted by County Ag Land Preserve Staff.  Federally funded easements are visited annually and may include federal staff.  Landowners will be notified by phone or regular mail prior to an inspection visit. The State has the option of conducting additional inspections of easements, if a violation is suspected. The county must complete an inspection report for each farm inspected, which is submitted to the landowner and the state, as well as a year-end report.

MUST I APPLY EVERY YEAR?

No.  A new application process started in 2020 which requires a complete application every 2 years to be submitted.  The next deadline for new applications is February 15, 2022.   The County Board and staff will review completed applications every 24 months. Following the review of complete applications, qualifying applications, will be ranked with scores and ranking position posted in the Office and results mailed to each qualifying landowner.  Results will be posted to the webpage as well. Note the County Board will appraise from the ranked list of farm applications for a 24 month period.  February 15, 2022 Applications are available.

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 email pmccandless@yorkcountypa.gov     Or write:  York County Agricultural Land Preservation Board  2401 Pleasant Valley Road Suite 101 Room 145  York PA 17402