The Athens Land Trust is processing paperwork to submit the Oconee County farm of Carole Ludwig for protection following an announcement earlier this month that the federal government is accepting applications under the new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program.
Ludwig’s livestock farm,1510 Old Farmington Road in the south of the county, was selected by the Farmland Preservation Ranking Committee late last year after the Board of Commissioners took over review responsibility for the county’s long-successful farmland protection program.
Laura Hall, conservation director at the Athens Land Trust, told me yesterday she is working to get the paperwork nominating the farm ready by the June 6 deadline set by Acting State Conservationist Greg Kist on behalf of the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Georgia.
Sharon Holbrooks, conservation easement specialist with the Athens office of NRCS, told me in an email message today that each state’s recommendations for projects to be funded are due in the national NRCS headquartes by July 11.
The national office then will inform the state office of the amount of funding available, she said.
Oconee Farmland Program Model
Holbrooks told the BOC last April that the Oconee County farmland protection program, run until that time by a citizen committee, the Oconee Partnership for Farmland Protection, had been a model for others throughout the state and that the county likely would receive about $175,000 in funding if it put forward a farm.
The county chose not to do that, though how that decision was made, by whom and when, has never been disclosed.
The Ludwig farm was on a list of 32 farms under consideration by the Oconee Partnership when the BOC replaced it as the review committee, according to Russ Page, a member of the Partnership and longtime advocate of farmland protection in the county.
The federal government puts up about half of the fundings for a farm, the farmer puts up a quarter, and the county contributes about a quarter.
The Oconee County funding comes from monies set aside by voters in the 2009 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
Screening Committee Ranking
The 75-acre farm of Ludwig was one of six under review by the BOC’s screening committee, based on applications the county received following an information meeting on October 17 of last year.
The Committee forwarded its ordering of the six farms, with Ludwig’s farm at the top, to the BOC on Dec. 18.
The BOC then forwarded the list to the Athens Land Trust, which has partnered with the county in the past on the farmland protection program.
The Land Trust has worked with the farmers and drafted the easements that protects the farms from future development.
Athens Land Trust Role
Hall explained how those easements work in the 30-second video clip below from the meeting she and Page had with Ludwig and other Oconee County farmers in October.
The easement protects the farm from development in perpetuity and allows the farmer to pass the land to family or even sell it without fear that it is going to become a subdivision.
Hall told me last night that the Athens Land Trust will nominate to the NRCS “the farm that the Committee said was at the top of the list of six.”
She said she had visited the Ludwig farm and was in discussions with the owner about how to move the process forward now that the NRCS has requested nominations.
At some point, the BOC will have to vote to allocate its share of the money to purchase the easement.
New Farm Bill
The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) was created through the 2014 Farm Bill, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama on Feb. 7, 2014.
ACEP includes two types of easements, Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) and Wetlands Reserve Easements (WRE). Ludwig’s farm will fall under the ALE component.
ACEP combines NRCS’ former Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP), Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) and Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP).
Funding for farmland protection in Oconee County in the past has come from FRPP.
Old Program Repealed
The previous farm bill, passed in 2008, expired in 2012, but Congress passed an extension through September of 2013.
That extension included funding for FRPP, but Holbrooks told me in a telephone conversation last month that the new bill had repealed the old program and its funding.
According to an analysis of the 2014 Farm Bill by the National Farmers Union, the ACEP program will receive $2.025 billion through 2018.
The bill also provides funding authority for 10 years, meaning that funding is authorized if the bill is extended by Congress. The current law will be in effect through Sept. 30, 2018.