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LESA System Design and Uses

System Design

When LESA is applied, a value for land evaluation is combined with a value for site assessment to determine the total value of a specific site for agriculture. The higher the total value of a site, the higher the capabilities of that site for agricultural.

The LESA system can help units of government meet the following two overall objectives:

  • Facilitate identification and protection of important agricultural land.
  • Assist in implementing farmland protection policies

LESA systems should be designed for consistent use in all applications. LESA provides a framework where land evaluation and site assessment procedures are documented before individual sites are considered. This process allows different individuals to evaluate sites consistently, without bias.

LESA systems are based on existing knowledge but should be flexible enough to accommodate differences within states, counties, or areas. A LESA system can be developed at various levels of government—State, county, or township—or for an area such as a USDA-designated major land resource area (MLRA). LESA utilizes soil survey information and interpretations that are widely available throughout the United States, and planning concepts and principles that are regularly used by community planners.

LESA systems do not take away the power of local or state officials to make land use decisions, but help them make rational, consistent, and sound land use decisions. To do this, LESA systems include local values and objectives identified by a local work group or committee that helps develop the system. For this reason, a LESA system should be developed at the governmental level where it will be used—state, county, township, or town.

Finally, LESA systems need to be dependable. Planners and others need a reliable system to evaluate land and to determine under what conditions agricultural land should or should not be converted to nonagricultural uses. Soil survey information provides technically sound data for the land evaluation part of LESA. Thorough documentation of the site assessment part of LESA provides reliable information. Involving a local work group in the development phase also lends credibility to the system.

LESA can provide information to:

  • Identify important farmland.
  • Implement national, state, and local farmland protection policies.
  • Prepare and update comprehensive land use plans.
  • Guide the appropriate use of state, local, or Federal funds.
  • Assess tax on agricultural land.
  • Purchase or transfer development rights.
  • Prepare environmental impact statements as they relate to agricultural land.
  • Plan water and natural resource projects.
  • Plan sewage, water, and transportation systems.
  • Determine the minimum size of farm units to be included in agricultural districts.

LESA Guidebook
These documents require Adobe Acrobat Reader

LESA Guidebook - English Version
Guia para La Evaluacion de Suelos y Valoracion de Sitios - Spanish Version

Getting Started
State or local officials—planners, conservation district officers, other elected officials, and agency leaders—who want to develop a LESA system should request assistance from NRCS through conservation districts or other appropriate units of government. The requesting official should outline the specific objectives for a system and keep appropriate decisionmakers informed. It is equally important for local officials to help develop and test the system, as well as take the lead for determining the site assessment factors.

NRCS will work with the state or local governing body or its designee with jurisdiction over the land area for which the LESA system will be developed. NRCS will help the local work group adequately consider the soil and related resources in developing a LESA system.

Local committees and work groups can utilize the LESA system to design agricultural land protection zones.

Local Committee or Work Group
In most cases, one or more committees or work groups should be organized to assist and guide the development of a LESA system. In areas where an agricultural land protection committee already exists, no new committee should be needed.

For More Information
NRCS or the local conservation district can provide more information. Local USDA Service Centers are listed in the telephone book under U.S. Department of Agriculture.