No one can say with certainty how a piece of property might be best farmed in the future. For that reason, agricultural easements are usually crafted with a high degree of flexibility.
An agricultural easement is a form of conservation easement. A conservation easement is a voluntary, legal agreement between a landowner and a non-profit land trust that permanently protects land by restricting it for open space, recreation, wildlife habitat, or agricultural production. An agricultural easement is written with farm use as the top priority. Such an easement keeps the land in private ownership and available for agriculture by permanently altering the property deed to prevent or minimize subdivision, and to limit construction to agricultural buildings and residential buildings that support the farm (in a manner that serves both current and future landowners).
No one can say with certainty how a piece of property might be best farmed in the future. For that reason, agricultural easements are usually crafted with a high degree of flexibility that one would not see in other conservation easements. This includes provisions that allow for fencing, farm buildings, land clearing, and more. Our goal in writing easements is to help ensure that the land can sustain a vital and viable farm business.
When appropriate, an easement could include an additional measure of protection, called an Option to Purchase at Agricultural Value (OPAV). An OPAV is language that is written into an easement which requires that when the farm goes up for sale (if it is not being sold to a family member or farmer), the land trust that holds the easement can step in to buy the property and resell it to a farmer. This provides an extra measure to ensure that the eventual sale of the land will be at its agricultural value and that it will continue as an active farm, creating affordability and keeping farmland in farming.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Protecting Maine farmland is the only way to ensure we will have enough land to grow our food in the future. Agricultural conservation easements protect land from development and preserve its availability for continued agricultural use. As a property right that can be granted or sold to a land trust, an easement can also provide financial benefits to the landowner in the form of income tax incentives or income to support a farm operation. Also, it often allows the land to be sold to a next generation farmer at a more affordable price.
The grant of an agricultural conservation easement can be a very important part of a farm succession plan, especially for landowners who want to ensure their land will remain available for farming in the face of an uncertain future. An agricultural conservation easement can create the security of knowing that a farm will never be developed for other uses. An easement sale might also provide some capital for retirement, or help to facilitate the sale of the land to a next generation farmer. MFT staff is well-versed at working with landowners that would like to include an easement in their succession plan; we are happy to share our expertise, and point you towards resources and tools that best suit your needs.
If you grant an agricultural easement on your property, you are NOT giving up title to the land, nor any remaining rights of ownership.
When you grant an agricultural easement on your property, you reserve all customary rights and privileges of ownership, including the rights to sell or lease the property, or to leave the property to someone else through a will. The same holds for future owners. (The easement’s terms will apply to all subsequent landowners in perpetuity.)
Generally, an agricultural easement limits future development that interferes with continued farming, but allows future development that supports farming, including fencing, land clearing, and new agricultural structures (such as barns or even farmworker housing). At any time, before or after granting a conservation easement, you can contact MFT with your questions about activities on your property. MFT strives to answer all questions in a timely manner. We understand that your property is your livelihood, and we do our best to provide the necessary information as soon as possible.
You are under no obligation to provide public access to farmland you protect. Some landowners who grant easements choose to include language that allows public access (for hunting, fishing, or recreation), but MFT never requires it.
The vast majority of landowners who grant easements remain pleased they did so for the rest of their lives. But because an easement will place new restrictions on your land, permanently, it’s critically important that you think this all through carefully and clearly. You may regret granting an easement if the restrictions prevent some intended use, or some use that you did not anticipate at the time you granted the easement.
It is useful for you, as a landowner, to have thought a bit about your goals before contacting MFT. Here are some questions to reflect on:
- Why do I wish to permanently protect my land?
- What are my financial circumstances? Do I need compensation? Or am I in a position to donate an easement?
- Do I have the time and patience to work through an easement process?
- Do I have strong, specific desires in mind for the land?
You can contact us at any time for more information, with your questions or concerns, or to start a conversation about protecting your farmland.
For most inquiries, staff will need to review a map of your property in order to help you assess if our tools are suitable for your situation. It is most helpful if you can compile maps of your property, or even just a tax map and lot number prior to contacting us.
Depending on the characteristics of your property and your needs as a landowner, donated easements may be the best tool to protect your land. Donated easements are generally easier to execute than purchased easement, and still bring financial benefits. Learn More.
Your farm could be a candidate for a purchased easement, in which you would receive direct compensation for protecting your land. These funds could allow you to reinvest in your farm, pay off debt, or extract some equity before passing the farm along to the next generation. Learn More.