Frequently Asked Questions
- What is an Agricultural Conservation Easement?
- What is the duration of an agricultural conservation easement?
- How does the landowner benefit from the sale of an easement?
- How are farms chosen for an easement purchase?
- How are the easement value and purchase price determined?
- How do I apply for the agricultural easement purchase program?
1. What is an Agricultural Conservation Easement?
An agricultural easement is a deed restriction that landowners may voluntarily
place on their land to protect it from development. Landowners retain private
ownership of the property and most of the other rights that come with it, including
the right to use the property, lease, sell and bequeath it, and borrow money
against it. The easements are designed to protect and preserve working farms.
They limit subdivision, non-agricultural development and other uses inconsistent
with commercial agriculture.
2. What is the duration of an agricultural conservation easement?
The County Board will not consider applications for easement purchases that are
not perpetual in nature. The terms of the easement require that the farmland
remain in agricultural use forever. The farmer may sell the land, but the new
owner must continue to abide by the terms of the easement.
3. How does the landowner benefit from the sale of an easement?
Benefits to landowners who sell agricultural conservation easements may
include, but are not limited to, the following:
- The sale of an agricultural conservation easement allows landowners toretain private ownership of the property, and is an alternative to selling theproperty for development.
- Many landowners use the proceeds from easement sales to reduce debt
loads, expand operations, and/or as a financial resource that can help
assure the transition of the farm to the next generation.
- Landowners may be eligible for income tax charitable deductions, as well
as a reduction in the value of the property for estate tax purposes.
Landowners are encouraged to consult with a financial advisor on possible
- Under normal circumstances, landowners have no control over what
subsequent owners will do with the site. Agricultural conservation
easements permit agricultural-minded landowners to control how the
property will be used in perpetuity, no matter who the future owners are.
4. How are farms chosen for an easement purchase?
Interested landowners may voluntarily submit an application to the Erie County
Land Preservation Board (care of the Erie County Department of Planning). The
farm is then rated against other eligible farms based on criteria including, but not
limited to, the following:
- Quality of the farmland. State and county regulations require that farms
are a minimum of 50 acres in size, unless they are 10 acres in size and
are located adjacent to existing preserved farmland or are used for the
production of crops unique to the area (grapes, potatoes, peaches and/or
cherries). At least half of the tract must either be harvested cropland,
pasture or grazing land and it must contain at least 50 percent soil
capability, classes I-IV. The farm must be located in an agricultural
security area of at least 500 acres.
- Stewardship. Farms are rated on the use of conservation practices and
best management practices such as nutrient management and control of
soil erosion and sedimentation.
- Likelihood of conversion. Easements offered for sale will be scored and
ranked for acquisition based on a variety of factors such as:
- Proximity of farm to sewer and water lines.
- Amount of agricultural use in the vicinity.
- The amount of other preserved farmland in close proximity.
5. How are the easement value and purchase price determined?
The County Board’s offer to purchase an easement will be based upon one or more appraisal reports, which estimate both the market value and the farmlandvalue of the farm. A Pennsylvania State Certified General Real Estate appraiser who is qualified to appraise a property easement purchase will perform the appraisal.
The easement value is the difference between the farm’s market value
(development value) and its value for agricultural use.
According to state and county guidelines, the purchase price may not exceed,
but may be less than, the appraised value of the easement.
Landowners who accept less than the full value of the easement may be eligible
for income tax charitable deductions, and are encouraged to consult with their
6. How do I apply for the agricultural easement purchase program?
The Erie County Agricultural Land Preservation Board is accepting applications
from June 1, 2016 through September 30, 2016. Applications may be obtained
from the Erie County Department of Planning, or from the link in the sidebar.
Completed applications should be submitted to:
The Erie County Department of Planning
150 E. Front Street, Suite 300
Erie, PA 16507