The Pennsylvania Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Program strengthens Pennsylvania’s agricultural economy and protects prime farmland. It enables state and county governments to purchase development rights from farmers. Since the first easement was purchased in December 1989, more than 4,500 farms totaling nearly 500,000 acres have been approved for easement purchases. The Department of Agriculture Bureau of Farmland Preservation administers the statewide program.

Farmland Eligibility

To be eligible, farms must be located in an Agricultural Security Area and consist of at least 50 acres in size or 35 acres if the county program elects. Parcels fewer than 50 acres may be preserved if adjacent to existing preserved farmland. At least half of the tract must be harvested cropland, pasture or grazing land, and contain  at least 50 percent of its soils in land capability classes I-IV.

Farmland Ranking

Farmland preservation priority is determined by productivity of soils, the extent of agricultural activities in the area, encroaching development pressures, and characteristics of the farm such as soil and water conservation practices.  Highest ranking farms are selected for appraisal.

Determination of Value

An independent licensed real estate appraiser is selected by the county board to determine the market value and agricultural value. The difference between them is the agricultural conservation easement value. The county board bases its offer upon this value. 

Conserving our Farmland

The deed of easement prevents development of the land for purposes other than agricultural production. Local, county, or state government, or any combination of the three, may purchase easements. Counties that wish to have an easement purchase program must create an agricultural land preservation board. Presently, 57 counties have established boards. The 17-member State Agricultural Land Preservation Board provides statewide governance of the program. This board is responsible for the distribution of funds, approval and monitoring of the county programs, and specific easement purchases.

Permitted Uses

Preserved farm owners may engage in rural enterprise activities as provided by for in the county program. In addition, the preserved farm owner may engage in oil and gas development and underground mining of coal and other minerals. Utility rights-of-way may also be granted. Each preserved farm is entitled to construct one additional residential structure on two acres or less. Contact your county farmland preservation administrator or the bureau for additional permitted uses.

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