The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) announced Nov. 22 that in 2018, 23 areas in Ohio will receive funding totaling $8,569,986, which will aid in the preservation of farmland across the state. Madison County was among the locations on the list and was granted the largest allotment, $907,151.
Allocations come from the Clean Ohio Fund, a program under the Local Agricultural Easement Purchase Program (LAEPP) that works toward environmental conservation.
“The reason for that amount is because of the county’s average farm size,” said Julia Cumming, Program Administrator at Madison County’s Soil and Water Conservation District. “Madison County has a lot of farmland and a large farm size.” When the funding is portioned out, ODA has to ensure there is a sufficient amount of money to go to at least one farm.
“Farmers can’t apply for the easement alone, they have to go through an application process,” Cumming said. “ODA wanted this program to be local, so farmers apply through local sponsors.” The county commissioners are the sponsor organization for Madison County.
LAEPP has sponsor organizations that accept applications from landowners in the state who are interested in selling an agricultural easement on their farms to the state. Currently, there are 40 counties in Ohio that have been certified to accept applications.
“We have, right now, 17 farms in the program in Madison County,” said Cumming. A majority of the farms are located in the central or southwestern parts of the county. “The reason for those concentrations is based on the scoring.”
Those who sell the farmland have to follow specific guidelines such as: the land has to be 40 acres or more, actively engaged in farming, participating in the Current Agricultural Use Valuation program, demonstrating good stewardship of the land, have the support of their local government and not lay directly in the path of development.
Areas in the north near Plain City and the southeast near Mount Sterling have few farms in the program due to their close proximity to land development. Many of the townships in those regions have both residential and commercial land in development, in the path of it, or in early planning stages.
According to ODA’s website, “the program is highly competitive with about one in 15 applications being funded.”
Cumming said that ODA is focused on “smart growth” for agricultural land. “Growing smart is a concern when it comes to land preservation and conservation,” she said.
As previously mentioned, funding for the program comes from the Clean Ohio Conservation Fund, which was approved by voters in 2008. When combined with easements from all programs, 401 family farms in 58 counties have collectively preserved more than 67,000 acres in agricultural production. Applications for easements can be found online at the ODA website.
Reach Michael Williamson at 740-852-1616, ext. 1619.