$1.7M available to protect farms, ranches

To help protect working agricultural lands in Washington, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced that $1.7 million will be available to successful applicants this year through the agency’s Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP).

There is a continuous, year-round sign-up for the program, but Jan. 15, 2010 has been set as the deadline for evaluating applications for this year’s funding. Since its inception in 1996, about 10,000 acres of Washington’s farm and ranch lands have been enrolled in the program. Last year, Washington received $5.8 million in funding, enough to enroll nearly 3,700 acres on 23 parcels of land.

“This program can help communities preserve farm or ranch land and cultural resources,” said Jeff Harlow, NRCS program liaison. “It’s an excellent way to keep prime farmland in agriculture and, at the same time, keep farming and ranching communities thriving by relieving development pressures,” he said. “Interested land owners need to contact an eligible entity that would pay 50 percent of the easement cost. However, to be considered for funding, the application needs to identify an entity with the capability to acquire easements. That entity applies and nominates a parcel that has a pending offer of value at the time of application. If they do not have a pending offer from a land owner in writing at the time of application, the application is not eligible for ranking.”

NRCS is seeking proposals from local, state and federally recognized tribal governments and non-governmental organizations interested in working together to acquire conservation easements on farms and ranches. Proposals should be sent to Jeff Harlow at the NRCS Area office, 1835 Black Lake Blvd., S.W., Suite D, Olympia, WA 98512. Applications postmarked or received by the close of business Fri., Jan. 15 will be ranked and considered for funding. Final project selections are expected to be announced by March 1.

FRPP protects productive agricultural land by purchasing conservation easements to limit conversion of farm and ranch lands to non-agricultural uses. NRCS provides up to 50 percent of the appraised fair market value of the conservation easement in this voluntary program. State, tribal and local entities can match that amount and they can include landowner donations in their match.

To be eligible for the program a farm or ranch must have the following components:

— Contain productive soils or historic or archaeological sites;

— Be part of a pending offer from a non-governmental organization, state, tribe or local farmland protection program;

— Be privately owned;

— Covered by a conservation plan;

— Large enough to sustain agricultural production;

— Accessible to markets for what the land produces; and

— Surrounded by parcels of land that can support long-term agricultural production.

For more information on FRPP, visit http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/frpp or contact Jeff Harlow at (360) 704-7784.