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Agricultural Land Easements (ALE)

The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), Agricultural Land Easement (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. 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 in New Jersey has partnered with the following eligible entities to preserve over 200 agricultural lands in New Jersey through the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP) and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP):

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.

How to Apply

Eligible cooperating entities submit application proposals to NRCS to acquire conservation easements on eligible land. Landowners must work with a cooperating entity and do not submit applications directly to NRCS. A partner will need to submit one NRCS-CPA-41 with their application package and one NRCS-CPA-41A for each parcel included in their application package.  For detailed information on the application process, entity application checklists, and parcel application checklists, view the information for entities page.

To learn how to get started with NRCS, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/getstarted

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