Conservation easements prove good option for farmland preservation

earth-newOne of Virginia’s oldest land conservation options has proven to be a valuable tool for farmers and other landowners seeking to protect their property from development.

A recent survey of 631 Virginia Outdoors Foundation participants determined that 90 percent of them are managing the protected lands for agricultural production or forestry, and 73 percent said the protected land was either important or essential to their livelihoods.

“For a long time groups like Farm Bureau have supported conservation easements and the land preservation tax credit as a good option for some landowners,” said Trey Davis, assistant director of governmental relations for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “This is one of the first times there’s hard data or feedback showing that the financial incentives at the state level have helped these folks at a business level” as well.

A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and an outside agency or government body to permanently limit certain uses of a property, while allowing the property owner to continue to own and use the land, and to sell it or pass it on to heirs. Usually the arrangement comes with some form of compensation, such as the state tax credits that can be claimed through a VOF conservation easement.

“There have always been concerns that conservation easements may be too restrictive for farmers,” Davis said. “The agriculture community and conservation community have been working to address these concerns the past few years. This survey proves that the financial incentives are working to help landowners continue to farm as they have in the past or are giving them the flexibility to try business options they may not have been able to test out before.”

The VOF was created in 1966 by the Virginia General Assembly and has easements on more than 735,000 acres across the commonwealth. That’s more than 1,100 square miles of open space protected from development forever.

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