Agricultural Stewardship AssociationAgricultural Stewardship Association

Land Conservation

Conservation Options

There are many good reasons to consider conserving your land, and there are many options available for you to go about it.

In addition to the landowner's own conservation goals, there are other factors affecting which option may be available. These include the property's physical features, its conservation attributes and location, and funding availability. ASA evaluates each potential project according to specific conservation criteria, in addition to whether the property lies within one of our priority areas, as outlined in our Farmland Conservation Plan.

Donated Easements (DDR)

A landowner can also choose to donate a conservation easement to ASA. There are many reasons why people choose to donate easements, including estate planning and family consensus-building between generations, state and federal income tax deductions, state property tax credits, a desire to leave a legacy to future generations, or simply because they feel it is the right thing to do as stewards of the land.

Because of financial constraints and competition for grants, donated easements may be the only option available to landowners who want to see their land protected in their lifetime.

Donated easements typically take three to eight months to complete, depending on the complexity of the project. If landowners want to complete their easement donation in a certain year for tax purposes, please contact us, and we will help gauge feasibility.

Landowners may also donate a conservation easement on their land via their will. Please contact ASA for the recommended language.

Link to Additional Resources

Purchase of Development Rights (PDR)

If funds are available and the property is suitable, ASA may purchase the conservation easement (also called purchase of development rights, or PDR). The purchase price of the easement is determined by an appraisal conducted by New York State-certified appraiser. The appraisal uses comparable sales and includes a “before” easement valuation and an “after” easement valuation. The difference between the values is the amount the landowner would be paid.

State Funding for PDRs

Most purchased easements are funded through the New York State Farmland Implementation Protection Program, administered by the Department of Agriculture and Markets. This is a highly competitive grant program that typically focuses on larger-scale, commercially viable farming operations with good soil resources.

The state ranking criteria consider development pressure; whether the property adjoins public resources, important ecosystems or habitat characteristics; total acreage; the amount of acreage in production; demonstrated farm management; farms with business or succession plans, proximity to other protected farms and municipalities’ commitment to maintaining local agricultural viability.

 The grant provides 75% of the total cost of the project, defined as the cost to purchase the development rights plus project-related expenses, such as survey, title report, appraisal, staff time and recording fees.  The remaining 25% must come from a local match.  ASA will attempt to secure funding for the match, either from our own reserves or from a federal grant (detailed below). If the local match cannot be organized, the landowner must be willing to do a bargain sale to make up the difference. 

PDRs require time, considerable paperwork and patience. The state grant process can take up to two years to complete once the grant announcement is made. 

Federal Funding for PDRs

The Federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP) is administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. FRPP is also highly competitive and provides 50% of the cost to purchase the development rights but does not apply funding toward project-related expenses.  A 25% cash match is also required. Due to the constrictions of this program, it is often best used as the local match with the state program, if permitted. 

How ASA can help

ASA administers both the Washington County and Rensselaer County Purchase of Development Rights Programs. In this role, we offer guidance for farmers interested in applying for the state farmland protection program.

Interested landowners are asked to submit a pre-application to ASA with information about their property and, if relevant, their farming operation. Pre-applications are accepted once a year, usually in the spring. The county Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board, in consultation with ASA, select one or two farms that they feel best meet the state criteria and will be competitive for state funding. ASA then writes the grant on behalf of the county and, if awarded, administers the grant and holds the easement.

Some towns in Washington and Rensselaer Counties are eligible for the state grants as well. ASA provides the same support to those towns that apply for a grant as we do for individuals.

Pre-Emptive Right to Purchase

A Pre-Emptive Right to Purchase is an agreement that allows ASA the option of purchasing a property at the agricultural value (plus improvements with limitations) if the seller contracts to sell the land to a non-farmer. ASA may choose to exercise its right to purchase the property and will then find a farmer to sell the land to at the agricultural value. This agreement is entered into voluntarily and is done simultaneously when granting a conservation easement.

The idea behind this type of development rights sale is to keep conserved land affordable for farmers to purchase, especially in areas where real estate prices are skyrocketing. 

Landowners opting for the Pre-emptive Right to Purchase will be paid a sum determined by an appraisal prepared by a New York State-certified appraiser. Click here for a sample Pre-emptive Right to Purchase document.

Private Bargain Sale

If a property does not qualify for state or federal farmland protection grant programs but is a working farm containing good soil resources, a bargain sale easement may be a possibility. A bargain sale means the landowner agrees to receive less (usually 50%) than fair market value. If financial reserves allow, ASA may purchase the easement from the seller.

While the price may be deeply discounted in this kind of sale, the landowner may qualify for state and federal tax deductions on the portion of the easement that is donated as part of the bargain sale.

Another advantage: Since bargain sale transactions do not involve state funding, they can usually be completed in less than a year, depending on the complexity of the project.



Donation of Land

One of the greatest gifts to ASA is what is referred to as a tradeland. These are lands that people donate outright or bequeath to ASA. ASA becomes the owner of the property at the time of conveyance or upon death if conveyed in a will.

Before any tradeland agreement, ASA evaluates each property to see if it meets the criteria for a conservation easement or whether it might be used for another purpose by us.  For example, it could be used as a demonstration farm or forest used in educating and promoting farmland conservation and local agriculture. If it meets ASA’s conservation criteria, the property will be sold subject to a conservation easement. The funds generated from the sale are then applied toward other ASA conservation projects. 

If the property does not meet the criteria for an easement, it will be sold with no restrictions, and the proceeds will go to ASA. 

Donating land is a win-win for all involved. The donor receives a tax deduction for his or her charitable gift (or, if the donation was made after death, the estate is valued at a lower level). ASA receives proceeds of the sale to further our land conservation efforts.  And the buyer of the purchases the property at a lower price than if it had been subject to a conservation easement.

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