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Do Conservation Easement Programs Fit into Your Plans?

Do Conservation Easement Programs Fit Into Your Plans?

by Steven M. Ramsey, Agriculture Economist
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Salina, Kansas

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has a continuous signup for applications in the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), Grassland Reserve Program (GRP), and the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP). Applications received prior to the program deadlines are evaluated and ranked for the current fiscal year funding. Once all applications for a given program have been ranked, they will be funded based on the availability of program funds.

WRP provides opportunity for landowners to receive financial assistance incentives to restore, protect, and enhance wetlands in exchange for retiring the wetlands from agricultural production. Applicants have three enrollment options: permanent easement, 30-year easement, and restoration cost-share agreement.

  1. With the permanent easement option, applicants agree to provide NRCS a perpetual conservation easement on the lands being enrolled. The NRCS easement payment for this option equals the lower of three amounts: the agricultural value of the land, an established cap, or an amount offered by the landowner. In addition to paying for the easement, NRCS pays 100 percent of the wetland restoration costs.
  2. Under the 30-year easement option, applicants agree to provide NRCS a 30-year conservation easement on the lands being enrolled. NRCS easement payments are 75 percent of what would be paid for a permanent easement. NRCS also pays 75 percent of restoration costs.
  3. For both permanent and 30-year easements, NRCS pays all costs associated with acquiring the easement, including closing and recording fees, survey fees, and title insurance.

Restoration cost-share agreements re-establish degraded or lost wetland habitat. NRCS pays up to 75 percent of the cost of restoration activity. This enrollment does not place an easement on the property.

Through GRP, landowners have the opportunity to receive financial assistance for the preservation of grazing lands. In return for the easement payment, participants agree to limit future development and cropping uses of the land while retaining the right to conduct common grazing practices and operations related to the production of forage and seeding, subject to certain restrictions. Landowners may apply for a permanent easement, or a 10-, 15-, or 20-year rental contract. State, tribal, or local governments and non-governmental organizations (eligible entities) may also submit proposals for easements through a Cooperative Agreement. Under these agreements, the GRP provides matching funds (up to 50 percent of the fair market value) to eligible entities to acquire the conservation easement.

Under the permanent easement option, payments are made on a per acre basis as set by the Geographic Area Rate Cap for the county in which the land is located. For the rental agreements, payment is made on a per acre basis where the rate is equal to the rental rate determined by the Farm Service Agency.

As with WRP, NRCS will pay all costs associated with acquiring the GRP easement, including closing and recording fees, survey fees, and title insurance.

FRPP provides matching funds (up to 50 percent of the fair market value) to help purchase development rights to keep productive farm and ranch lands in agricultural uses. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides funds to state, tribal, or local governments and non-governmental organizations (eligible entities) to acquire these easements. Proposals may be submitted by eligible entities on a continuous basis throughout the year. As with the WRP and the GRP, proposed easements will be ranked and evaluated for funding.

Among other things, in order to qualify for FRPP, the land must have 50 percent prime, unique, or important farmland soils; have a historic or archeological resource; or have land that supports the policy of a state or local farm and ranch lands protection program.

Applications for the WRP, GRP, and FRPP may be obtained and filed at anytime in local U. S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Service Centers at the NRCS or conservation district office. Applications may also be obtained through USDA’s e-gov Internet site at: www.sc.egov.usda.gov.

Visit your local NRCS office to learn more about natural resources conservation. The office is located at your local U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Service Center (listed in the telephone book under United States Government or on the internet at offices.usda.gov). More information is also available on the Kansas Web site at www.ks.nrcs.usda.gov. Follow us on Twitter @NRCS_Kansas. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

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