State Programs and Policies

State governments have used broad regulatory powers to create innovative programs that protect farmland and support farm businesses. Find state laws, ordinances, administrative regulations, executive orders and other legal and policy tools used to protect farms and ranches, as well as state policies and programs that help connect farmers with land and financial support.

Agricultural Conservation Easements

An agricultural conservation easement (ACE) is a deed restriction landowners voluntarily place on their property to protect productive agricultural land. They are used by landowners to authorize a qualified conservation organization or public agency to monitor and enforce the restrictions set forth in the agreement. In general, ACEs limit subdivision, non-farm development and other uses of the land that are incompatible with farming.

Agricultural Districts

Agricultural District Programs allow farmers to form special areas where commercial agriculture is encouraged and protected. Enrollment in agricultural districts is voluntary. In exchange for enrollment, farmers receive a package of benefits that varies from state to state.

Beginning Farmer Loan Programs

State finance programs provide low-interest loans, loan guarantees, and loan participation programs to help producers buy land, buildings, equipment and breeding livestock. Some programs, including “Aggie Bond” programs, are targeted specifically to beginning farmers. The National Council of State Agricultural Finance Programs tracks available programs and produces a comprehensive directory of state-level programs available to beginning and established producers.

Definitions of Agriculture

Definitions for “agriculture” and “agricultural activities” vary from state to state. For terms such as “farming” and “agriculture” states may use multiple definitions in separate sections of their own legal codes.  For the purpose of a state farmland protection program, these definitions can be used to limit or expand eligibility and to help ensure the program works as intended.

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Differential Assessment and Circuit Breaker Tax Programs

Tax incentives are widely used to maintain the economic viability of farming. All states have at least one program designed to reduce the amount of money farmers are required to pay in local real property taxes.

 

The most important type of agricultural tax program is the differential assessment, also known as the current use assessment and use-value assessment. Nearly every state has a differential assessment program that allows officials to assess farmland at its agricultural use value, rather than its fair market value, which is generally higher. Three states—Michigan, New York, and Wisconsin —allow farmers to claim state income tax credits to offset their local property tax bills. These programs are called “circuit breakers” because they relieve farmers of real property taxes that exceed a certain percentage of their income. Iowa and New York offer a credit against school taxes on agricultural land.

Farm Link Programs

Farm Link programs connect farmers seeking land with agricultural landowners who want to see their land stay in agricultural production.  Several state programs offer programs that address land access for beginners.

State Farm Link Programs

Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement Programs

 

Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement programs (PACE) compensate property owners for restricting the future use of their land. PACE is known as Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) in many locations. Landowners voluntarily sell agricultural conservation easements to a government agency or private conservation organization that is responsible for enforcing the easement. Conservation easements restrict further development of the property while allowing landowners to retain other rights of ownership. 

 

Right to Farm Laws

Right-to-farm laws are designed to accomplish one or both of the following objectives: (1) to strengthen the legal position of farmers when neighbors sue them for private nuisance; and (2) to protect farmers from anti-nuisance ordinances and unreasonable controls on farming operations.

Tax Credit Programs

State tax credit programs in Iowa and Nebraska offer agricultural asset owners a state income tax credit if they lease land, equipment, livestock and/or buildings to beginners.To help beginners acquire infrastructure, Nebraska also exempts personal property up to $100,000 from state taxes if it is used in production agriculture by a beginning farmer or rancher.

State-level Tax Credit Programs

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