The federal government has approved $182,000 for protection of the Carole Ludwig farm in the south of Oconee County as part of the new federal farmland protection program, Sharon Holbrooks, easement specialist with the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservative Service, announced last night.
Funding was approved in early August for the Ludwig farm, Holbrooks told a gathering at the J. Phil Campbell Sr. Research and Education Center of the University of Georgia at Government Station Road and Experiment Station Road.
Owners of six farms in the county attended the meeting to learn about the new federal Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, which replaced previous programs that have helped protect farms in the county from development.
Interested farmers have until Sept. 15 to submit an application to be considered for county and federal funding for farmland protection.
Deal Not Complete
The money for the Ludwig farm is not yet “obligated,” Holbrooks said, but she said she is hopeful the process will be completed in the next several months and the Athens Land Trust will be able to place the easement on the farm protecting it from development in perpetuity.
The Athens Land Trust submitted the application to NCRS in June for protection of 51 acres of the Ludwig farm after the county’s Farmland Preservation Ranking Committee designated it as top-ranked among the six farms under review last year.
The livestock farm is at 1510 Old Farmington Road.
Under the program, Ludwig will donate about a quarter of the value of the easement, and Oconee County will contribute another quarter, using funds set aside in the 2009 Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax designated for farmland protection.
The total cost of the easement will be about $360,000.
The five members of the Farmland Preservation Ranking Committee, Henry Hibbs, Mac Hayes, Sam Mitchell, Bob Isaac and Keith Odom, attended the meeting last night. Hibbs is chair of the Committee.
Holbrooks gave an overview of the new federal program, which is an amalgamation of previously existing conservation programs.
Heather Benham, executive director of the Athens Land Trust, explained that organization’s role in making the application to NRCS and then holding and protecting the easement once it is in place.
Nancy Stangle, emerita director of the land trust, also attended the meeting.
When Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis assembled the county’s selection committee last year, he passed over farmland protection advocate Russ Page, and the Board of Commissioners did the same when it named the five members in August of last year.
Page was at the meeting last night, and Hibbs, who made introductory remarks, went to great length to praise Page as the one who led the early efforts of the county to protect farmland.
Hibbs said that the Oconee County–the only county in the state this year and in most years to get federal funding for farmland protection–was able to do so because of the efforts of Page and others working with him.
“We appreciate what you did,” Hibbs said in the video below.