AmericanFarm.com

 

Delmarva Farmer Columnists

 

Which land conservation option is right for you? (April 22, 2014)

Ag Law

By Kim Manuelides, Saul Ewing LLP, Partner

Local, state, and federal governments all administer programs that facilitate conservation of land for agricultural use.
Determining which program best suits your particular needs and will maximize your return is key.
Work with your local conservation district program office, accountant and lawyer to determine which program is best for you.
If your property qualifies for the program, you and the program administering body will need to agree to the price and the terms of the easement being placed on the property.
If you are concerned that you are not receiving a fair price, you should get an appraisal of your own.
In Maryland, if you and the state do not agree on the valuation, then you or the state may seek arbitration before the property tax assessment appeal board.
Before you sign the deed of easement document, read it — the document means what it says.
Most frequently, by signing the document you are giving up your right to conduct anything other than agricultural operations on the property forever.
The document will generally describe what the party acquiring the easement (usually the state, county or local conservancy) believes agricultural operations to mean and also will often contain other restrictive language governing use of the property. Practically speaking, some of the restrictions often apply to your property anyway as a result of local zoning and subdivision rules and regulations or even environmental regulations.
However, make certain that you plan ahead: Are you going to want to add an additional house on the property to accommodate another son or daughter? Are you going to want to add a creamery or other structure to diversify your operation? What about adding solar panels or a small wind farm? What about subdividing the property to give a portion of it to a loved one?
These and other changes to the use of your property are all likely subject to the easement agreement.
Some may be outright prohibited, others may simply require pre-approval by the easement holder.
Regardless, by signing the easement document you agree to these restrictions, not just for yourself, but for anyone who comes after you in the chain of title, whether that person is a son or daughter who acquires the property by inheritance or gift, or a third party purchaser.
Forever, is a long time, but the state or other entity that is acquiring the easement is paying you money for that right both directly in the form of cash at settlement and indirectly in the form of tax benefits in future years.
By entering into the agreement be certain that you are comfortable with the additional governmental oversight that will be attendant to the easement having been granted.
Most farmers are familiar with soil conservation plans, forest management and nutrient management plans, and their adoption in most cases is simply good management and stewardship.
However, the easement holder will likely have the right to inspect your farm to verify that you are in compliance with the easement granted.
Violation of the easement carries penalties that can be significant depending upon the size of the infraction.
Maryland has a process by which easements granted before Sept. 30, 2004 may be terminated.
This process is long, costly, and reflective of the state law’s policy that the easement is designed to protect agricultural lands from development.
However, those granted post September 2004 are by statute held “in perpetuity” and may be “terminated only under extraordinary circumstances.”
By comparison, agriculture easements in Delaware are meant to be held for as long as it is feasible to profitably farm the land.
Owners who maintain that the land may no longer be farmed profitably may apply to terminate the easement and repurchase the development rights from the state after 25 years.
Conservation easements in Virginia are held either in perpetuity or for a shorter length if specified in the agreement and are subject to termination in accordance with principles of law in equity.
In short, make sure that you (and the rest of your family) have a full understanding of the implication of burdening your property with the easement before you burden your successors with potential legal battles attempting to terminate an easement that no longer seems to make economic sense to them.
Putting your property in agriculture preservation can be a terrific way to preserve your family’s farm for years to come.
It is not without risks, however, and there are other options that may afford similar outcomes.
Make sure you fully understand those risks before you leap.
(Editor’s note: Kim (Pardoe) Manuelides is a partner in the law firm of Saul Ewing, LLP, who focusses her practice on solving legal issues and concerns of the agricultural community.)

• Pig Tales: Caring for animals (April 15, 2014)
• Vegetable Grower: Pollination, fruit set in seedless watermelons (April 8, 2014)
• Shepherd’s Notebook: Artifically raising lambs and kids (April 1, 2014)

• Ag Law: To fence or not to fence: That is the question (March 25, 2014)

• Pig Tales: A changed industry (March 18, 2014)
• Vegetable Grower: Producing, sourcing quality transplants (March 11, 2014)

• Shepherd’s Notebook: Changes to Maryland’s buck test (March 4, 2014)

• Ag Law: What legal risks come with agritourism attraction? (Feb. 25, 2014)

 

Get started with NRCS and 2014 Farm Bill (April 22, 2013)

Keeping the Farm

By Genevieve Lister, Public Affairs Specialist, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Maryland

The 2014 Farm Bill is a strong investment in the nation’s agriculture and conservation effort, and here in Maryland, NRCS and our conservation partners are in a great position to assist farmers who want to improve and sustain their land.
Farmers will find many positive changes in the bill, including consolidation of several programs under the categories of financial assistance, easements, and partnerships.
Consolidation of programs gives NRCS an opportunity to streamline the administrative processes and reduce burden on the public and field staff.
For farmers interested in learning more about the new Farm Bill, NRCS Maryland, in cooperation with Soil Conservation Districts and UMES, is holding two Public Information Meetings. National Program Managers from the Farm Service Agency, NRCS and Rural Development have been invited to present farmers with an overview of the new programs and changes to existing programs and answer questions. There is no cost to attend.
On the Western Shore, join the Soil Conservation Districts and USDA on Thursday, April 24 at 8-11:30 a.m., at the New Midway Fire Hall, 12019 Woodsboro Pike, New Midway, Md.
The morning will start with a free hot networking breakfast followed by agency updates. 
Participants should be sure to RSVP to Gay Teada, 410-848-6696, ext. 101, or e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
Farmers on the Eastern Shore are invited to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore Henson Center, 11868 Academic Oval, Princess Anne, Md., on Thursday, May 8, from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Agencies updates and a free networking lunch will be followed by breakout sessions with each agency to ensure your questions get answered. RSVP to Lisa Purnell at 410-651-6313 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
Another way to get started with NRCS is to stop by a local NRCS field office. We’ll discuss your vision for your land.
NRCS provides landowners with free technical assistance, or advice, for their land through a site visit.
Common technical assistance includes: resource assessment, practice design and resource monitoring.
Your conservation planner will help you determine if financial assistance is right for you. Please keep in mind that financial assistance is paid when work is complete.
We’ll walk you through the application process. To get started on applying for financial assistance, we’ll work with you to fill out form AD 1026, which ensures a conservation plan is in place before lands with highly erodible soils are farmed. It also ensures no wetland areas are farmed.
We’ll also work with you to meet other eligibility certifications.
As part of the application process, we’ll make sure you are eligible. To do this, you’ll need to bring an official tax ID (Social Security number or an employer ID), a property deed or lease agreement to show you have control of the property and a farm tract number.
Once complete, we’ll work with you on the application. Applications for most programs are accepted on a continuous basis, but they’re considered for funding in different ranking periods.
Be sure to ask your local NRCS district conservationist about the deadline for the ranking period to ensure you turn in your application in time.
If you don’t have a farm and tract number, you can get one from USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Typically, the local FSA office is located in the same building as the local NRCS office. You only need a farm and tract number if you’re interested in financial assistance.
NRCS will take a look at the applications and rank them according to local resource concerns, the amount of conservation benefits the work will provide and the needs of applicants.
Those who are selected, can choose whether to enter into a contract for the work to be done.
Once you sign the contract, you’ll be provided standards and specifications for completing the practice or practices, and then you will have a specified amount of time to implement. Once the work is implemented and inspected, you’ll be paid the rate of compensation for the work if it meets NRCS standards and specifications.
We invite you to learn more about NRCS at our public meetings, your local field office, or online at www.md.nrcs.usda.gov.