Enhanced easement programs offer options for protecting wetlands, farms

usdaThe USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service is offering some great options with the 2020 ACEP this year to reduce sticker shock for cost-conscious consumers.

The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program has been enhanced to make it a “better deal” for Virginia landowners and governmental and non-governmental groups interested in protecting the state’s wetlands and working farms. The new 2018 Farm Bill (Interim Final Rule) includes significant improvements in both the Agricultural Land Easement (ALE) and Wetland Reserve Easement (WRE) components of this stewardship program.

State and local governments and non-governmental organizations with farmland protection programs can now benefit from the no money down option available through ALE to help save productive crop, grass, pasture and nonindustrial forestland from conversion to non-agricultural uses. They will also see positive changes in the conservation (non-ALE) plan, Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) waiver, “Buy-Protect-Sell” transactions and entity certification provision of ALE.

This flexibility extends to the non-cash match for the required 50 percent of the easement’s fair market value, which may include landowner donation and acquisition costs such as appraisals, boundary surveys and closing expenses.

Landowners looking to restore or maintain wetlands can visit their local NRCS office to explore opportunities available through the improved Wetland Reserve Easement (WRE) component. Our highly trained specialists will walk the land with you to evaluate restoration and management plans, factoring in water quality benefits for your enrollment under the 2018 Farm Bill.

Properties eligible for WRE include farmed wetlands that can be successfully and economically restored; former or degraded wetlands with a history of agricultural use; wetlands farmed under natural conditions; and “prior-converted” cropland converted on or before December 23, 1985. Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land established with trees may also be eligible for enrollment through a waiver process. NRCS pays 100 percent of the easement value for the purchase and 100 percent of the restoration costs for permanent easements. Landowners can also select a 30-year option and receive 50 to 75 percent of those costs.

“To date, NRCS has helped protect 16,555 acres of Virginia wetlands and productive farmland through 141 conservation easements,” said Virginia State Conservationist Jack Bricker. “Our dedicated team of conservationists and easement specialists looks forward to another great year in 2020.”

Applications are accepted on a continual basis, but NRCS requires individuals (WRE) and entities (ALE) interested in Fiscal Year 2020 funding to submit applications on or before March 10, 2020. We expect this to be the only signup period in FY 2020. All ACEP applicants (landowners, entities, WRE, & ALE) must have farm records established with USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

Applications are available at your local USDA Service Center and online at www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted. Learn more about ACEP and other Farm Bill programs at www.va.nrcs.usda.gov/.


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