The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) component is a voluntary program that provides an opportunity for eligible partners to receive financial assistance to purchase agricultural land easements targeted at working agricultural lands.
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These perpetual easements prevent productive working lands from being converted to non-agricultural uses and maximize protection of land devoted to food production. Eligible lands include cropland, grassland, pastureland, and nonindustrial private forestland. Each easement is required to have an agricultural land easement plan that promotes the long-term viability of the land.
Eligible cooperating entities must:
- Be committed to long-term conservation of agricultural lands
- Be capable of acquiring, managing, and enforcing easements
- Have sufficient staff dedicated to monitoring and easement stewardship
- Have available funds for acquisition, monitoring, and stewardship
- Be a State or local government, or non-governmental/non-profit organization that has a farmland or grassland protection program
Under the Agricultural Land component, NRCS may contribute up to 50 percent of the fair market value of the agricultural land easement. Where NRCS determines that grasslands of special environmental significance will be protected, NRCS may contribute up to 75 percent of the fair market value of the agricultural land easement.
To enroll land through agricultural land easements, NRCS enters into cooperative agreements with eligible partners.
NRCS NJ has partnered with the following eligible entities on 200 individual easements through the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP) and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP):
- State Agricultural Development Committee (SADC)
- New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJCF)
- Hunterdon Land Trust (HLT)
- D & R Greenway Land Trust
Grasslands of Special Significance
Grasslands of Special Significance are grasslands that provide essential habitat for threatened or endangered species or at-risk species such as the American Kestrel, bobolink, and northern bobwhite quail. Along with agricultural land, NJ grasslands face the daily threat of development. New Jersey is an important stop along the Atlantic Flyway and grasslands resources provide essential habitat along the migratory pathway to rest and refuel. Species that depend on this essential habitat along the corridor have experienced significant declines.
Grasslands of special significance must:
Contain little or no noxious or invasive species, as designated or defined by State or Federal law
Be subject or the threat of conversion to nongrassland uses or fragmentation
Contain rangeland, pastureland, shrubland, or wet meadows on which the vegetation is dominated by native grasses, grass-like plants, shrubs, or forbs, or is improved, naturalized pastureland, rangeland, and wet meadows.
Provides, or could provide, habitat for threatened or endangered species or at-risk species, protects sensitive or declining native prairie or grassland types, or provides protection of highly sensitive natural resources.
Through consultation with the NJ State Technical Committee, NJ has decided that all grasslands types that meet this definition are a priority. Where NRCS determines that grasslands of special environmental significance will be protected, NRCS may contribute up to 75 percent of the fair market value of the agricultural land easement.
For parcels protecting grazing uses and related conservation values as a condition of eligibility, must incorporate deed language that protects those grazing uses or grassland values. The parcel must have a grasslands management plan included as a component of the agricultural land easement plan. A common practice to protect these grassland habitats is delayed mowing outside of the nesting season.
Are You Considering an ALE Easement?
The American Farmland Trust worked with NRCS to develop materials for individuals and entities considering ALE easements. See the links below for more information:
Farmlandinfo.org: ACEP-ALE landing page
Farmlandinfo.org: ACEP-ALE for Landowners
Ready to get started?
Contact your local service center to start your application.
How to Get Assistance
Do you farm or ranch and want to make improvements to the land that you own or lease?
Natural Resources Conservation Service offers technical and financial assistance to help farmers, ranchers and forest landowners.
To get started with NRCS, we recommend you stop by your local NRCS field office. We’ll discuss your vision for your land.
NRCS provides landowners with free technical assistance, or advice, for their land. Common technical assistance includes: resource assessment, practice design and resource monitoring. Your conservation planner will help you determine if financial assistance is right for you.
We’ll walk you through the application process. To get started on applying for financial assistance, we’ll work with you:
- To fill out an AD 1026, which ensures a conservation plan is in place before lands with highly erodible soils are farmed. It also ensures that identified wetland areas are protected.
- To meet other eligibility certifications.
Once complete, we’ll work with you on the application, or CPA 1200.
Applications for most programs are accepted on a continuous basis, but they’re considered for funding in different ranking periods. Be sure to ask your local NRCS district conservationist about the deadline for the ranking period to ensure you turn in your application in time.
As part of the application process, we’ll check to see if you are eligible. To do this, you’ll need to bring:
- An official tax ID (Social Security number or an employer ID)
- A property deed or lease agreement to show you have control of the property; and
- A farm tract number.
If you don’t have a farm tract number, you can get one from USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Typically, the local FSA office is located in the same building as the local NRCS office. You only need a farm tract number if you’re interested in financial assistance.
NRCS will take a look at the applications and rank them according to local resource concerns, the amount of conservation benefits the work will provide and the needs of applicants.
If you’re selected, you can choose whether to sign the contract for the work to be done.
Once you sign the contract, you’ll be provided standards and specifications for completing the practice or practices, and then you will have a specified amount of time to implement. Once the work is implemented and inspected, you’ll be paid the rate of compensation for the work if it meets NRCS standards and specifications.