United States: Preserving Agricultural Land In Maryland – Reaping Rewards For Farmers

Last Updated: May 8 2017
Article by Anne-Herbert Rollins

While growth and development is inevitable in the name of progress, the State of Maryland and its more rural counties have made efforts to find some balance by providing incentives to farmers for preserving agricultural land and our rural areas. Agriculture still remains an important industry in the State of Maryland, so the State has found ways to encourage and sustain the agriculture industry while providing financial assistance and incentives to farmers to preserve farmland for those important agricultural uses and benefits.

In 1979 the State of Maryland established the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (the "MALPF"). The intent of the MALPF is: (1) to provide sources of agricultural products within the State for the citizens of the State; (2) to control urban expansion into the agricultural and woodland areas of the State; (3) to control the spread of "urban blight"; and (4) to protect agricultural and woodland areas for open space land.

As part of the MALPF, the Maryland Agricultural Preservation Fund was created, in part, to fund the purchase and acquisition of agricultural land preservation easements and to facilitate agricultural preservation programs. If a county in the State is certified by the State as having actively farmed agricultural land which meets the criteria for agricultural easements, then the MALPF allows for those counties to make application to the MALPF for funding for agricultural preservation easements.

Many of the more rural counties in the State of Maryland, such as Frederick County and counties on the eastern shore, where agriculture remains an important industry, have adopted and enacted county programs which encourage the preservation of farmland. Generally, in order to encourage farmers not to sell or develop farmland for non-agricultural purposes, such as residential or commercial uses, there must be some financial incentive. The State of Maryland, through the MALPF, and rural counties have found ways to provide those important financial incentives through grant funding, property tax credits, and the purchase of easements.

Where the goal is to preserve farmland from development for non-farm related uses, there is generally a requirement that the farmer give up future development rights in exchange for the agricultural preservation financial incentives. In those situations, the land must qualify in terms of its soil quality and location, and there is usually a minimum size or acreage requirement. Where the goal instead is to preserve certain types of industries, such as agriculture or forestry, or certain cultural resources, then there may be no soil quality or minimum size requirements.

Preserving farmland is important for the protection of land, food and fiber sources, and also to protect environmental areas and resources. Through these incentive programs the land can be preserved, while allowing the farmer to continue to use the land for agricultural purposes. So a double incentive can be created by the agricultural preservation financial incentives, combined with the continued revenue stream the farmer may reap from continuing to farm the land.

Types of agricultural preservation programs available which the counties may utilize include the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Program, the Critical Farms Program, the Installment Purchase Agreement Program, the Rural Legacy Program and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.

The Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Program requires a minimum of 50 acres of qualifying soils, and there must be some development potential remaining to be eligible for funding. The Critical Farms Program, preserves farmland by assisting with acquiring farmland with purchase options and property tax credits, provided that the land has development potential remaining. An Installment Purchase Program ("IPP") provides interest payments throughout the term and property tax credits, but also requires a minimum of 50 acres of qualifying soils and remaining development potential. The focus of all of these programs is to preserve quality, productive agricultural land for farming, rather than have prime farmland developed for non-agriculture uses.

Rural Legacy programs target protecting resource based industries, such as agricultural, forestry, and cultural related industries. The program is funded through grant application funding and tax credits. Since the program is industry focused, there is no minimum soil quality or size requirement; however the land must be located in an approved "Rural Legacy Area."

Some other programs include the Maryland Environmental Trust, a Federal Farmland Protection Program, and Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program ("CREP").

So while progress, development and growth are important to sustain areas economically, the ultimate goal in Maryland, fortunately, is not necessarily to "pave paradise and put up a parking lot."  The State of Maryland and its rural counties have found creative programs and financial incentives to encourage farmers to preserve rural farmlands, allowing the next generation of farmers in Maryland to continue to farm the land, while also preserving rural landscapes, woodlands, open space and environmentally sensitive areas.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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