Landowners have options to preserve their property

Landowners have options  to preserve their property

Image Credit: Barbara Lang

Every week on the cable series, “Yellowstone,” the fictional Dutton family battles developers trying to take possession of their multi-generational ranch in Montana. If the Duttons had placed an easement on their ranch, possibly through the American Farmland Trust, they could have saved themselves a whole lot of trouble.

These days there are many options for landowners to preserve their property. Whether you’re interested in passing the family farm to the next generation, have an unusual natural feature like a bog or endangered plants, or perhaps there is a Native American earthwork or other important historical feature on your land, research an organization that will help you keep your assets intact for future generations. Starting with the Department of Farmland Preservation, part one of this series will help you consider the right fit for you.

Farmland and open spaces are being lost at an alarming rate. Experts at The American Farmland Trust, a national organization with an office in Ohio, estimate every day 2,000 acres of agricultural land is paved, fragmented or converted to other uses that jeopardize farming.

In this state the Ohio Department of Farmland Preservation partners with landowners, local government, soil and water conservation districts, and land trusts to permanently preserve Ohio farms in agricultural easements. An easement is a voluntary, perpetual agreement between a landowner and the Ohio Department of Agriculture that ensures Ohio farms remain in agricultural production, strengthening Ohio’s number-one industry, food and agriculture.

The farmland can be sold or passed along as a gift to others at any time, but the restrictions prohibiting nonagricultural development stay with the land.

“Maintaining Ohio’s strong food and agriculture industry starts with farmland, which is why preserving Ohio’s most productive farmland remains a priority for the Ohio Department of Agriculture,” said Sarah Huffman, executive director of farmland preservation. “Together with our local preservation partners, 607 family farms in 61 counties have collectively preserved more than 97,800 acres in agricultural production since our preservation programs began. We look forward to another productive year as we open up landowner applications to our local sponsors in January.”

Of the 607 farms in this program, four are in Holmes County, preserving 684 acres. Wayne County has eight farms totaling 660 acres. Western Reserve Land Conservancy is the local sponsor for Wayne County that assists landowners with the the applications for Clean Ohio funds.

Western Reserve Land Conservancy is not limited to preserving just farmland. It also conserves cherished local landscapes including natural areas, parks and preserves and works with county land banks, reforests cities and creates healthy communities. WRLC purchased the historic Kister Mill near Shreve with plans to open it to the public once this major project is finished.

“Much of the mill structure restoration is complete with some exceptions such as electric, rear stairwell by the waterwheel and the waterwheel itself,” Andy McDowell of the WRLC said, noting waterwheel construction is scheduled for 2022. “The side building is getting most of the hands-on work at the moment. That building will have restrooms. We had a water well drilled that hit an artesian well, putting out 7 gallons a minute. The underground equipment for the septic system will be going in around Christmas. A limited parking area, landscaping, sidewalks, et cetera, will all be in 2022.”

Until last year, Western Reserve Land Conservancy assisted landowners in Holmes County with Clean Ohio applications. However, in 2022 Holmes County will not have a local sponsor, rendering county landowners unable to apply in the January 2022 funding round of $6.5 million. Every year county nonprofits can apply for local sponsorship in August with a deadline in October for the next application process.

Another avenue for preservation is Killbuck Watershed Land Trust in Wooster. This volunteer organization assists property owners in both Wayne and Holmes counties and other counties to preserve land. KWLT is not a local sponsor at this time for Clean Ohio funds but does accept applications year round. It has preserved over 10,000 acres of land and will tailor the easement to fit unique needs.

If you’re considering the Ohio Department of Farmland Preservation, its website is a great resource to decide if an agricultural easement is right for your property. There are four requirements to determine if your land is eligible before you start the application process: First, there is a minimum of 40 acres unless your property borders a protected ODA Agricultural Easement Property. You also must have your farm enrolled in Current Agriculture Use Value. In addition, the land has to be in an Agricultural District. And finally, the farmland owners must have possession of clear title.

For more information about the Ohio Department of Farmland Preservation, visit www.agri.ohio.gov or call 614-728-6238.