Centre County's Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) Program actively preserves farmland by compensating landowners for the development rights they give up when they place an Agricultural Conservation Easement on their property. The Centre County PACE Program was initiated in 1989 in accordance with Act 149 and is administered by the Agricultural Land Preservation Board.
State funds for the purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements traditionally have come from grants by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture under the provisions of Act 43 of 1981. The $100 million bond issue overwhelmingly approved by voters to launch the ag conservation easement program has been exhausted. The source of on to going state funding for the program is a 2 cent per pack tax on cigarettes, which generates approximately $20 million a year for the program (each pack-a-day smoker provides about $7.30 a year).
Centre County contributes matching funds to the PACE Program annually, and interest collected from Clean and Green property conversions is also used to purchase Agricultural Conservation Easements.
How Successful Has the Program Been?
In the past 30 years, funds from all of the sources described above have been used to purchase the development rights on 5,329 farms across Pennsylvania (there are approximately 58,000 farms in the state). Pennsylvania ranks first in the nation with 552,702 acres permanently preserved in 58 counties.
Easements Purchased in Centre County
Funds have been used to purchase permanent Agricultural Conservation Easements on 54 farms in Centre County. Those farms are in Benner, Ferguson, Harris, Marion, Potter, Spring and Walker Townships. There are 58 active applications (covering more than 8,300 acres) that have been submitted by farmland owners interested in participating in the program.
Preserved Farmland Remains Privately Owned
Farmland preservation is significantly different from open space preservation.
- The land being preserved is part of a productive, privately-owned tax paying business enterprise.
- The purpose of purchasing the development rights is to preserve productive agricultural land for future use. The American Farmland Trust reports that over "half the value of U.S. farm production — including 80 percent of our fruits and vegetables and more than half of our dairy products — are produced in rapidly urbanizing counties."
- The Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements does not involve the outright purchase of the farmland — only the purchase of development rights (the right to build homes, stores, and factories on the land).
- The land remains the private property of the farmer — and it remains on the tax rolls.
- The farmer can sell the land for agricultural purposes.
- Development rights are purchased to allow the farmer to recoup the difference between the value of the land for development purposes and the value as farmland.
In order to apply for the PACE Program, eligible farms must:
- Be located in a duly established Agricultural Security Area of 500 acres or more;
- Be contiguous acreage of at least 50 acres in size unless the tract is at least 10 acres in size and is either utilized for a crop unique to the area or is contiguous to a property which has a perpetual conservation easement in place which is held by a "qualified conservation organization," as that term is defined at section 170(h)3 of the Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C.A. 170(h)3). "Contiguous acreage" is defined as all portions of one operational unit as described in the deed, or deeds, whether or not described as multiple tax parcels, tracts, purparts or other property identifiers. It includes supportive lands such as unpaved field access roads, drainage areas, border strips, hedgerows, submerged lands, marshes, ponds and streams;
- Contain 50 percent of soils which are available for agricultural production and are of capability Classes I through IV, as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service; Contain the greater of 50 percent or ten acres of harvested cropland, pasture or grazing lands.
- If harvested cropland, be capable of producing sustained yields per acre equal to the county average yield per acre for that crop as published by the Pennsylvania Agricultural Statistical Service (PASS);
- For crop yields not reported by PASS, the farmland tract must demonstrate a history of sustained yields by providing information concerning the volume of farm sales over a two-year period.
Applicant farms are scored and ranked using a LESA (Land Evaluation Site Assessment) program. The program assigns weighted scores to a parcel based on soil quality, acreage, development pressure, clustering potential, and other factors. Farms are selected for the PACE Program in order of rank.