FAQs On Agricultural Land Preservation
FAQs On Agricultural Land Preservation
An Agricultural Security Area (ASA) entitles landowners and farmers to special consideration from local and state government agencies, thus encouraging the continuing use of the land for productive agricultural purposes. The local government unit may not impose ordinances that unreasonably restrict farm structures or practices within the ASA, nor may normal farming operations and practices be deemed nuisances in a nuisance ordinance. The key features of the Agricultural Security Area Law (Act 43) are: farmer protection from condemnation, protection from nuisance laws, and the ability to apply to the Berks County Agricultural Conservation Easement (ACE) program. Agricultural Security Areas do not restrict land use or negatively impact landowners.
There are three ways for a landowner to obtain a conservation plan. You can contact the Berks County Conservation District at 610-372-4657 to write a free plan; hire a private consultant; or write your own plan, which includes soil loss equations, and submit to the Berks County Agricultural Land Preservation Board for acknowledgement. Applicants and landonwers with preserved farms can submit a Request for Assisantace (SC-1 form), to our office.
No. You do not need to re-apply to the ACE Program. You will be sent a letter with a re-enrollment form to return if you would like to keep your application active for the following year. You would need to contact the office to make changes to your application. Any changes would need to be made by the December 31st application deadline. Changes to your application would include if:
- The farming operation has changed
- More land has been acquired that you would like to include in your application
- A portion of land was sold or you would like to exclude it from your application
- A structure has been constructed on the property that is not used for agriculture
- A conservation plan has been completed or updated
Farms are ranked according to the Land Evaluation Site Assessment (LESA), which is a tried and tested computer-based program that was developed by Penn State University. The LESA ranking process has four different categories that are used when ranking a farm: soils, farmland potential, development potential, and clustering potential. After each of these categories is ranked, the computer program generates a score for the farm. The farms with the highest scores are selected for easement purchase, thus easement selection is made without bias, discrimination, or political ties.
We do not target any specific areas during the selection process. Farms are selected based on the ranking system described above.
YES! An agricultural Conservation Easement is a perpetual easement, thus the farm is preserved forever. Though the ownership of the farm may change, the easement remains with the deed, and is recorded with the Berks County Recorder of Deeds office.
Act 319 Clean And Green of 1974 was established to preserve farmland, forest land, and open space by taxing land according to its use, rather than the prevailing market value. The program is administered by the Berks County Assessment Office. The program is voluntary and generally requires that a minimum of 10 acres remain in the designated use (agricultural, agricultural reserve, or forest reserve). Land taken out of the permitted use becomes subject to a rollback tax of up to seven years, and an interest penalty. For more information, contact the Berks County Assessment Office at 610-478-6262.
No, your farm does not need to be enrolled in Clean and Green to apply to the ACE Program. They are entirely separate programs.
The Agricultural Conservation Easement (ACE) program is a jointly funded State and County Program. Funds from the from the County include funds from the general fund, penalties from Clean & Green rollback taxes, and any donations received. These funds are certified to the State and matched - generally with a 2 to 1 match. In the past, additional funds had been provided by a bond and line of credit by the County Commissioners, and federal funding through the Farm and Ranch lands Preservation Program.
There are several ways that you can support farmland preservation in Berks County. You can donate funds to the ACE Program or another non-profit organization that preserves land. You can also spread the word to your neighbors and municipality about the benefits of farmland preservation. It also helps to continue to support local farms by purchasing their products. Visit the local food map to find farms selling local products in your area.