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Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program

The 2014 Farm Bill streamlines and consolidates three former programs, the Wetlands Reserve Program, Grassland Reserve Program, and Farm and Ranch Land Protection program into a new program, Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). Although WRP, GRP, and FRPP were repealed in the 2014 Farm Bill, all existing easements remain valid. New sign-up and program information for ACEP will be announced as it becomes available.

The Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) is a voluntary program of Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) whose purpose is to protect agricultural lands by limiting non-agricultural uses. Landowners sign a deed of easement restricting development of the property and agreeing to maintain the land according to an approved Conservation Plan. The program is run in partnership with approved state, local and non-profit entities. The entities apply for FRPP funds, arrange for the purchase of development rights through conservation easements on private lands, and hold and manage these conservation easements in perpetuity.

Although the state’s Farmland Preservation Program is the most well known program that retires development rights here in New Jersey, there are many local and non-profit organizations that also have a history of owning and managing conservation easements. All of these groups are eligible to apply for FRPP funding.

siloWhat Are Agricultural Uses?

For the purposes of the FRPP program in New Jersey, “agricultural uses” are generally defined by the state farmland preservation program, with additional restrictions based on federal law.

NRCS has also added deed restrictions to protect against the degradation of soils and agricultural productivity. A 2% limitation on impervious surfaces is standard for easements funded by FRPP. There is a provision to waive this restriction on a parcel-by-parcel basis, up to a 10% maximum impervious surface limitation.

Waiver considerations include population density, ratio of open prime and important farmland to the impervious surfaces, impact to water quality, type of agricultural operation, and parcel size. The waiver must be requested at the time of application, and the approved limitation must be stated in the deed.

Impervious surfaces are defined as roofs and pavement (not gravel), including permanent greenhouses, barns, roadways, storage sheds, etc. regardless of where they are located on the easement area. An exception is any conservation practice installed to NRCS standards and used for its original purpose. Seasonal greenhouses, those in place for six months of the year or less, are not considered impervious.

NRCS prohibits the in-ground installation of solar panels and wind turbines that exceed the energy need of the farm for agricultural production.

NRCS allows restoration of previously converted wetlands and grasslands as an agricultural use permitted on all easements funded with FRPP dollars, as long as the intent of the easement to protect long term agricultural productivity is not compromised by the restoration.

lettuceWhat is an Eligible Entity?

  • A commitment to long-term conservation of agricultural lands;
  • A capability to acquire, manage, and enforce easements;
  • Sufficient staff dedicated to monitoring and easement stewardship; and
  • The availability of funds for acquisition, monitoring and stewardship.

Approved entities may enter into an agreement with NRCS for a period of three years, during which time they may submit parcels for ranking and funding. NRCS may fund up to 50% of the appraised fair market value of the easement.

What is Landowner and Land Eligibility?

Both the land and the landowner must be eligible before FRPP funds are approved. Although individual landowners do not apply for FRPP directly, they are considered beneficiaries of the program and are required to be active participants in the application process by submitting eligibility documentation to the Farm Service Agency (FSA). Landowner eligibility criteria are detailed in Applying for Financial Assistance (This documents requires Adobe Acrobat.)

Landowner eligibility includes compliance with Highly Erodible and Wetland Conservation provisions of the 1985 Farm Bill, as amended. NRCS will help landowners develop a conservation plan for any land determined to be Highly Erodible during this process.

Landowners also must meet the current adjusted gross income limitation, earning less than $1 million in non-farm income for each of the past three years, unless more than 66% of the total gross income was from farm income.

Forest management plans are required on all parcels with forest cover on greater than 40 contiguous acres or 20% of the easement area (whichever is greater). The maximum allowable forest cover is 66% of the easement area.

Entities are responsible for ensuring that they request funding for eligible land. Eligible land must:

  • Be privately owned;
  • Contain at least 50% prime or important farmland, unless located north of Route 78 and west of Route 287;
  • Be subject of a pending offer to the entity;
  • Contain cropland, grassland, pasture land, or forest land that contributes to the economic viability of the agricultural operation;
  • Include a maximum forest cover of two-thirds of the easement area (and have a forest management plan, if applicable); and
  • Possess suitable on-site and off-site conditions which will allow the easement to be effective in achieving the purposes of the program.

How are parcels ranked?

Each parcel submitted is ranked on its own merit. The parcel ranking includes both national criteria and state criteria. No parcel will be ranked unless the landowner and the land have both been determined eligible.

  • National ranking criteria uses US census data and:
  • Percent of prime, unique, and important farmland in the parcel;
  • Percent of cropland, pastureland, and grassland in the parcel;
  • Ratio of total acres in the parcel to the average farm size in the county;
  • Decrease in percentage of the acres of farmland in the county;
  • Percent population growth in the county;
  • Population density of the county;
  • Proximity of the parcel to other preserved farms and military bases; and
  • Proximity of the parcel to other agricultural operations and infrastructure.
State criteria include:
  • Proposed impervious surface cap;
  • History of ownership, conservation and soil health improvements on the farm;
  • Location within a state designated important region;
  • Proximity to category I waters;
  • Quality of the soils to be protected; and
  • Percentage of historically farmed prime soils.

What are the United States Responsibilities?

As part of the ranking and eligibility process, NRCS will complete a pre-acquisition database search for hazardous materials on or near the parcel, and conduct an on-site visit to determine the condition of the land. NRCS may also interview the landowner to ensure that all program requirements are understood and that any information collected is accurate and complete.

Once a parcel is selected for funding, NRCS will notify the entity and develop or modify the cooperative agreement to include the specific parcel information and funds. Only approved parcels can be closed using FRPP dollars.

What Rights are retained by the United States?

NRCS maintains a “right of enforcement” which is defined as an interest in the land which the United States may exercise under specific circumstances to enforce the terms of a conservation easement. The purpose is primarily to guard against condemnation of FRPP-funded deeds.

Additionally, to ensure compliance with the conservation plan for Highly Erodible Land, the easement shall grant to the United States, through NRCS and its successor or assigns, a right of access to the easement area.

Application Submissions

The eligibility of the land and the landowner for each parcel must be established at the time the parcel is submitted for potential funding.

For each parcel submitted by an eligible entity, the landowner’s legal name and contact information must be provided. A completed CCC-1200 Application for Program Funding with this information must be signed by the landowner.

The landowner must be compliant with Highly Erodible and Wetland Conservation provisions of the 1985 Farm Bill, as amended. An AD-1026 must be on file with the FSA or submitted to them concurrent with the application.

Landowners also must meet the adjusted gross income limitation, earning less than $1 million in non-farm income for each of the past three years, unless more than 66% of the total gross income was farm income. A current CCC-933 must be filed with the FSA for this purpose.

In addition to the above, the entity must include:

  • a copy of the signed easement offer with parcel legal description,
  • a listing of funding sources and amounts,
  • a current aerial photograph with the easement area and local road network indicated,
  • a web soil survey map of the parcel,
  • a completed parcel ranking sheet, and
  • a completed impervious surface allowance worksheet if more than 2% impervious cover is being requested.

The maps and ranking sheet should include only those lands for which FRPP program funds are requested; exception areas located on the farm are not included in the ranking. The ranking sheet should contain the specific parcel details as well as the resultant score. Details include:

  • Percent of prime, unique, and important farmland in the parcel;
  • Percent of cropland, pastureland, and grassland in the parcel;
  • Ratio of total acres in the parcel to the average farm size in the county;
  • Proximity of the parcel to other preserved farms and military bases;
  • Proximity of the parcel to other agricultural operations and infrastructure;
  • Proposed impervious surface cap;
  • History of ownership, conservation and soil health improvements on the farm;
  • Proximity to category I waters;
  • Percent Class I and II soils in the parcel; and
  • Percentage of historically farmed prime soils.

Parcel applications can be submitted at any time by an approved entity, however all applications must be received by 3:00 PM the day a ranking period closes in order to be considered for that funding cycle. Ranking periods for parcel enrollment close the business day closest to October 31 and January 31 each year. Due to the inclusion of personal and private information, no electronic submittals will be accepted. Applications should be marked “PRIVATE” and be addressed to:

FRPP Program Manager
USDA-NRCS
220 Davidson Ave. 4th Floor
Somerset NJ 08873


Entity Application Materials

Before an entity can submit parcels for funding, the entity must be approved by the State Conservationist. The forms below will assist an entity in the application process. Approvals are good for 3 fiscal years.

The following documents require Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Document Description When to Submit
Entity Application Checklist (14 kb) List of Requirements for the Entity Application package Every three years
SF-424 (available on eGov site) Application for Federal Assistance Application for Funding used by all federal agencies Each time a request for parcel funding is submitted
SF-424b (38 kb) Assurances Non-Construction Programs Confirmation that the entity meets all federal program requirements Each time a request for parcel funding is submitted
DUNS number and CCR Registry All entities are required to obtain a Data Universal Number System (DUNS) number and register with the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) Each time a request for parcel funding is submitted; CCR must be updated annually - See Information for Entities

For forms available on the eGov site, select "Browse Forms" and enter form number only (424, etc.) and "Search" to locate form.

Parcel Application Materials

The annual deadlines for parcel applications are the business days closest to October 31 and January 31. Only approved entities can submit parcels for funding; however landowners must be actively involved in the process. The forms below will assist both the entity and the landowner to complete a parcel application package.

The following documents require Adobe Acrobat Reader or Microsoft Excel.

Document Description Who Completes
Parcel Application Checklist (17 kb) List of Requirements for the Parcel Application package Entity
Applying for Financial Assistance (67 kb) - also available in html format Brochure to explain the program application process and requirements for landowners For reference only
CCC-1200 (41 kb) Landowner Application - must include all landowners listed on the deed and their tax ids, and all landowners should sign one application form. The application form is submitted to NRCS once all landowners have filed their eligibility paperwork with the Farm Service Agency, so that the first question on the form is answered “yes Landowner
AD-1026 (available on eGov site) Highly Erodible Land Certification – separate form must be completed by each individual landowner listed on the deed, including husband and wife, and each entity listed on the deed. Landowner files with the Farm Service Agency
CCC-933 (available on eGov site) Adjusted Gross Income Certification Form – separate form must be completed by each individual landowner on the deed, including husband and wife, by each entity listed on the deed, and by each member of an entity listed on the deed. Landowner files with the Farm Service Agency
CCC-901 (available on eGov site) Members Information – used to identify the members of an entity who is a parcel landowner, and their percent ownership. Landowner files with the Farm Service Agency
DUNS number and CCR Registry Landowner entities are required to obtain a Data Universal Number System (DUNS) number and register with the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) for entities with an EIN. Landowner - See Information for Entities
Parcel Ranking Sheet (45 kb) Determines priority for funding Approved Entity
Impervious Surface Allowance Worksheet (83 kb) Determines maximum allowable impervious surface coverage Approved Entity, if requested by landowner

 

For forms available on the eGov site, select "Browse Forms" and enter form number only (424, etc.) and "Search" to locate form.

Financial Forms

The following documents require Microsoft Word.

Document Description When to Submit
SF-425 Federal Financial Report (available from Office of Management and Budget) Status of Funding Report Quarterly
SF-270 Request for Reimbursement (available from Office of Management and Budget Request for payment; submitted with recorded deed, copy of title insurance policy, baseline documentation, and SF-230 (see below) Following parcel closing, when supporting information is available
SF-230 (24 kb)Confirmation of Matching Funds Confirmation of parcel value and contributions from each funding source, signed by all parties With request for Reimbursement

 

For forms available on the White House, Office of Management and Budget site, use the link to access the latest versions of the required forms.

Other Information for FRPP in New Jersey

FRPP Manual: Title 440 - Programs, Part 519. Contains written policies and procedures used by NRCS employees to provide information and services to customers and partners to meet diverse needs of people, farm production, programs and resource needs of the public served by USDA.

The following documents require Adobe Acrobat Reader

Subpart G 519.62 - Determining Easement Price (PDF; 191KB)
Subpart G 519.64 B. - Deed Provisions (PDF; 107KB)
Subpart J 519.102 - Specifications for Appraisals of Real Property (PDF; 90KB)