Recipients of easements in the latest round of the Clean Ohio Agricultural Easement Purchase Program are expected to be announced in mid-July, the Ohio Department of Agriculture announced last week.
About $6.25 million in Clean Ohio funds are to be distributed.
More than 200 farm property owners, including nine from Wood, Lucas, and Sandusky counties, have submitted applications to the department of agriculture to be included in the easement purchase program that preserves land in perpetuity for agricultural use.
The department announced last week it had received 205 applications from landowners in 40 counties, up from 30 counties in 2008, for the eighth round of funding under the Clean Ohio program.
The applications represent more than 32,000 acres, according to the agriculture department. Wood and Sandusky counties each had four applicants and there was one applicant from Lucas County.
Ashland County with 30 applications led the list followed by Fairfield County with 25.
Under the program, property owners, if their applications are approved, enter into a voluntary but legally-binding restriction placed on a farm that restricts its use to predominantly agricultural use. The land remains privately owned and stays on tax rolls under Current Agricultural Use Valuation but can be sold or passed on as a gift at any time. The easement restriction that prevents non-farm development, however, stays with the land and is recorded on the property deed.
“Farmland preservation efforts ensure that agriculture remains a viable industry in our state,” said Robert Boggs, director of the agriculture department. “Farmland is the foundation of Ohio’s $98 billion food and agriculture industry, and Clean Ohio funds allow us to be proactive in protecting Ohio’s agricultural future.”
The applications are undergoing the first of a two-step scoring process. The first includes a formula that grades various characteristics of the land. The second step includes a review by a 13-member farmland preservation advisory board that looks at local government farmland preservation strategies, agriculture activities, estate and business plans, and other factors. Scores from both rounds are combined and the advisory board presents its recommendations to the director.
One of the more successful sponsors of property owners who apply for easements has been the Black Swamp Conservancy, a regional land trust and non-profit organization established to support the conservation of land and water resources in northwest Ohio.
Since the easement purchase program’s inception, the agriculture department’s farmland preservation office has received more than 2,000 applications. Due to limited funding, the department has been able to preserve only 135 of those farms, totaling 26,814 acres in 29 counties.
The department estimates between 1950 and 2000, Ohio has lost more than 6.9 million acres of farmland.