Driving across Ohio I don’t think it would come as a surprise to anyone that agriculture is our state’s largest industry, contributing more than $105 billion dollars annually to the economy. However, it might surprise you to know exactly how much more of the state used to be agricultural ground.
According to the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), Ohio lost more than 6.9 million acres of farmland between 1950 and 2000. To put that into perspective, 6.9 million acres covers over 23 times the amount of land in Delaware County!
ODA’s Local Agricultural Easement Purchase Program (LAEPP) is one way the agency is trying to help preserve the farming heritage of our state. Funding for the LAEPP program comes from the Clean Ohio Conservation Fund, which was approved by voters in 2000 and renewed again in 2008, and is used to purchase agricultural easements from willing sellers through a competitive process. As of 2019, over 480 family farms in 60 counties have collectively preserved almost 77,500 acres in agricultural production.
ODA uses Certified Local Sponsors as valued partners in carrying out the Ohio farmland preservation program. Local sponsoring organizations, which include land trusts, counties, and local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, assist landowners who are interested in selling easements with the application process, as well as with easement closing and monitoring. The Delaware County Board of Commissioners serves as Delaware County’s local sponsor, with the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District (DSWCD) coordinating the application process and annual monitoring of easements on behalf of the commissioners. Including pending easements, over 1,650 acres across the county are currently being preserved here in the county through ODA’s programs.
To be eligible for the program, farms must be a minimum of 40 acres or adjacent to a preserved farm, actively engaged in an agricultural use, participate in the Current Agricultural Use Valuation program, demonstrate good stewardship of the land, have support from local government, and not be in proximity to development. Landowners may use the proceeds of the easement in any way they wish, but most reinvest it in their farm operation. Several of the farms in the Delaware program have been recognized as Ohio Historic Family Farms by the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
Landowners wishing to apply for the competitive 2020 funding round can find additional details and an application online at soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us/laepp, or at the DSWCD office at 557A Sunbury Road. Applications will be accepted at the office until Feb. 3 at 4:30 p.m.
Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District’s mission is helping you help the land. Check out our website or follow us on Instagram and Facebook to see the latest news and events.
Rebecca Longsmith is a resource conservationist for the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to www.soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us.