Farmland is necessary for the production of food and fiber. However, it also benefits the community-at-large by providing open space, ground water recharge areas and wildlife habitat. Farmland, compared to other open space, provides a tax base that other preserved lands do not and uses significantly fewer services than developed land. Studies have shown that farmland uses significantly fewer services and therefore less tax money than it pays compared to developed land. Agriculture provides jobs and supports related services and industries crucial to the economic well being of the community.

Mercer County realizes the importance of farmland, not only from a production point of view, but also the aesthetic value, which improves one’s quality of life. Mercer County has shown a commitment to the preservation of farmland through the Open Space Trust Fund and by working with the State Agricultural Development Committee (SADC), local municipalities and non-profit organizations. The Open Space Trust Fund provides for Mercer County funding for the preservation of farmland.

There are several methods available to finance the purchase of farmland in the Preservation Program. They include: easement purchase, easement purchase on an installment basis, and fee simple purchase. Additionally, two types of eight-year programs provide for short-term preservation without great expense.
Easement Purchase
Under the easement purchase program, landowners voluntarily agree to sell their development rights. As a result of the sale, a permanent deed restriction is placed on the property, ensuring it will never undergo non-agricultural development. The landowner retains ownership of the deed restricted land. The cost to purchase the easement is shared by the state and county and can include the municipality or private sector. Participants are also extended the benefits of the Eight-Year Program (see below).
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Installment Purchase
This method provides for the preservation of farmland through purchase of the development rights, however payment to the landowner occurs over a period of years.
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Fee Simple Purchase
The landowner sells the farm outright to the State or County. The State or County then resells the land after placing a permanent deed restriction on the property that prevents future non-agricultural development.
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Eight-Year Programs
Two types of eight year farmland preservation programs are available. Under both, the landowner agrees to keep the farm in active agriculture for a period of at least eight years. In return for this and any other restrictions placed on the land, the landowner is eligible to receive 50 percent cost-sharing (up to a pre-determined limit) on conservation projects approved by the State Soil Conservation Committee, such as soil and water conserving practices. One program is municipally approved. It is similar to the other eight-year program except that it requires a municipal ordinance endorsing the landowners’ enrollment in the program. This type provides greater protection from eminent domain takings, and additional "right-to-farm" protection.

Mercer County is most active in the easement purchase program. An easement is a right. A "development easement" is a recorded document that limits the type and amount of development that may occur on a property. The selling of a development easement is a permanent agreement.

If you do sell your development easement a deed restriction expressly prohibits the development of your land for non-agricultural purposes, even for successive owners. You still own the land, you can farm it and improve it for farming, but the land can’t, for example, be sold for commercial or residential development. It can still be sold as a farm.

The landowner makes application to the Mercer County Agricultural Development Board. Applications are subject to eligibility criteria, funding availability, and the agricultural preservation goals of the County.

For further information, call 609-989-6545.
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