RD372 - Annual Report of Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Office of Farmland Preservation - December 1, 2012

Executive Summary:
This report presents the primary accomplishments of the Office of Farmland Preservation (OFP) for the period December 1, 2011 through December 1, 2012.

Significant accomplishments for this reporting period include the following:

• OFP continued to work with key agricultural, conservation and governmental partners to refine the allocation process for state matching funds to local purchase of development rights (PDR) programs;

• To date, $6.45 million has been allocated to 18 local PDR programs;

• OFP worked with local PDR programs to permanently preserve 5,733.10 acres of working farm and forest lands in 12 localities. OFP provided $5.3 million of the $14.84 million in total purchase price and transaction costs paid for these easements;

• OFP delivered 22 presentations/workshops to a wide variety of audiences. Topics included OFP, PDR programs, farmland preservation tools/techniques, conservation easements, use value assessment, farmland loss data and the Virginia Farm Link program;

• OFP and VDACS’ Commissioner continued outreach efforts with the Working Lands Discussion Group, which was developed to encourage more donations of conservation easements by working farm and forest landowners;

• OFP continued to oversee the Virginia Farm Link database. Since May 2008, 118 active farm owners have received 1,457 individual requests from 461 active farm seekers interested in discussing various transition options with them;

• OFP has allocated $117,410 to Virginia Cooperative Extension since December 2008 for workshops designed to help farm families and their service providers transition farms and farming operations to the next generation; and

• OFP continued collaboration with the Virginia Farm Bureau Young Farmers on the “Pilot Farm Link and Transition Workshops” and the development of the Certified Farm Seekers (CFS) Program.

The amount of state funding for local PDR programs continued at the previous level of $1.2 million for FY 2013, and the current budget for FY 2014 continues this allocation amount. While the funding for FY 2013 was the same as the previous year, there were five localities (Franklin, Northampton, Shenandoah and Washington Counties, and the City of Chesapeake) that applied for FY 2012 funding that chose not to do so again for FY 2013. (One applicant for FY 2013, Rappahannock County, did not apply in FY 2012.) For those localities that did not apply again in FY 2013, many of them indicated the desire to use the previous funding first to complete a particular easement transaction, and then decide on next steps for the program and future acquisitions based on the availability of funding at the local level.

OFP still expects to see continued demand for these state matching funds, especially if the funds are either maintained at this higher level, or even possibly increased. In addition to providing technical assistance on establishing and improving local PDR programs, OFP also will continue to provide technical assistance on other farmland preservation tools. These additional tools include the following: use value assessment, agricultural and forestal districts, transfer of development rights, and lease of development rights.

OFP plans to continue the outreach phase of its work to encourage more working farm and forest landowners to donate conservation easements in Virginia. To that end, OFP will be meeting in early December 2012 with the Working Lands Discussion Group to outline outreach efforts that can be conducted during the next year.

OFP also plans to continue its expansion of farm transition efforts in the future. OFP will continue to work with the Virginia Farm Bureau Young Farmers to develop farm transition and farm link workshops. VDACS and Virginia Farm Bureau are working on a Memorandum of Agreement to provide up to $1,500 (capped at a total of $10,000) for any county Farm Bureau that would like to hold a transition or linking workshop for its members. The first workshop held under this new arrangement is expected in Bedford County in January 2013. OFP also plans to continue working with the Young Farmer Committee on the implementation of the Certified Farm Seekers (CFS) program, and a significant revision of the Virginia Farm Link database toward the end of 2013.

Finally, OFP staff plans to do another large reprint of the “Planning the Future of Your Farm: A Workbook Supporting Farm Transfer Decisions”. Almost all of the original 3,000 workbooks printed in November 2011 have been handed out, and there is strong support from partners to have OFP continue to provide these workbooks free of charge to landowners, attorneys, accountants, lenders and others. The reprint, with some updates for changes to federal estate tax laws, is expected in early 2013.