By Jimmy Dula, NFU Intern

As land values in many parts of the county continue to rise, and as urban development threatens rural landscapes, county governments have begun taking stewardship of farmland and its development rights in order to make the land available to farmers. Though programs vary in structure and funding, they share the objectives of conserving soil and water, curbing development, and maintaining farmland in agriculture.

Two counties in my home state of Colorado – Pitkin County and Boulder County – have each successfully developed land lease programs over the last two decades. Boulder County leases over 25,000 acres of farmland, and, according to Pitkin County’s agriculture and conservation administrator Paul Holsinger, Pitkin County leases about 350 acres. These programs help farmers access land that otherwise might not be affordable, as they would likely be outbid by developers with deep pockets.

Morris County, New Jersey, began its permanent preservation program in 1987 with the purchase of a 14-acre farm. Since then, the county has preserved more than 100 farms, and currently leases more than 6,470 acres to farmers. Morris County’s program was so successful that New Jersey’s Department of Agriculture adopted and expanded the Farmland Preservation Program, which allows landowners to sell their development rights to the State Agriculture Development Committee, County Agriculture Development Boards, municipalities, and nonprofit organizations. This program also permits the State Agricultural Development Committee to purchase farmland and then auction it to a private owner with agricultural deed restrictions in place to ensure its permanent preservation.

Are there local or state government programs in your area that provides theses services? If not, do you think they could be useful for your community? Let us know in the comments!

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