USDA – Celebrating Virginia’s Contributions to National Easement Milestone of 5 Million Acres
Virginia NRCS has been a leader in preserving the state’s wetlands and productive farmland for more than 20 years. Working with private landowners and land trust groups, our experienced team of easement specialists has contributed about 16,500 acres to the more than five million protected across the nation for improved soil health, water and air quality and wildlife habitat.
We’re celebrating this milestone by highlighting why easements are a win for landowners, partners and the environment. Look for monthly messages exploring different facets of this flexible conservation program as we close out 2021.
Keeping Working Lands Working
Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) help landowners like Claire Abraham preserve their farm’s function, appearance and contribution to the nation’s food supply for generations to come. While other programs and practices have start and end dates, conservation easements help to preserve agricultural land indefinitely. An ALE stays with the land, allowing only specific agricultural uses.
Hidden Covey Farm might seem like a typical agricultural operation, but digging a little deeper reveals that the true value of the land lies below the surface. The property includes more than 50 acres of prime farmland with soils that offer the best combination of physical and chemical characteristics for producing food, feed and forage. The tract also has a quarter mile of valuable stream and riparian corridors and grasslands with the potential to provide habitat for a rare butterfly.
Owner Claire Abraham grew up in the area and says her relatives have farmed there in some capacity for 200 years. The original log house was built in the 1700s and the main barn predates the Civil War. Four generations of the Abraham and Wisch family now live, work and play on this 75-acre property and their conservation ethic is apparent on the landscape.
Land once used to produce corn and other row crops has been transformed into a sustainably managed pasture-raised beef, pork and poultry operation. Conservation practices like livestock exclusion fencing, riparian buffers and new watering stations for cattle help protect soil health and water quality.
The family has also partnered with the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust (NVCT) to place the tract in a permanent easement through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, or ACEP. NRCS and the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation (VLCF) provided funding with a contribution from the landowner to preserve the farm’s function, appearance and contribution to the nation’s food supply in perpetuity.
“The decision to put Hidden Covey Farm in an easement is an investment in my children and grandchildren,” Abraham said.
NRCS is seeing a growing demand for Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) with more potential partners expressing interest and submitting applications, but this funding is still underutilized in Virginia. NRCS Easement Program Manager Diane Dunaway can share more about increased administrative efficiencies and more flexible deed terms in the 2018 Farm Bill that will appeal to landowners and organizations alike.