2013 a good year to conserve farmland

Thanks to financial incentives made possible by Congress, the commonwealth and local conservation groups, farmers have great opportunities to conserve farmland in 2013 – and to receive financial compensation for doing so. Combined, these tools may make 2013 one of the best years for landowners to implement long-term conservation and estate-planning goals.

Residents of Rappahannock County have long recognized that working farmland is a great asset to our community. It is also the basis for two major economic drivers in the county: agriculture and tourism.

Farmland Preservation Program

To carry this important resource into the future, the county is once again calling for applications for the Farmland Preservation Program – a purchase of development rights program in which farmers are paid to remove development rights from productive working farmland. This helps ensure that the land is always available for farming.

Through the program, landowners complete a conservation easement on their property and receive a fixed rate for each development right that they voluntarily extinguish. Besides this purchase price, the landowner is often eligible for additional financial benefits, including a federal income tax deduction, transferable state tax credits and an estate tax benefit.

This year the county – thanks to generous pledges from the Krebser Fund, the Rappahannock County Conservation Alliance and matching funds from the Commonwealth – was able to secure $100,000 to buy development rights from farmers in the county. The county hopes to use these funds to expand on previous conservation successes, such as the conservation easements on Muskrat Haven Farm in 2008 and the farmland owned by Levi Atkins in 2011, both of which were made possible through the County Farmland Preservation program.

For more information on the program or for an application, contact County Administrator John McCarthy at 540-675-5330 or jwmccarthy@rappahannockcountyva.gov.

Congress renews enhanced conservation easement benefit

In the last hours of 2012, Congress renewed an enhanced tax incentive that makes it easier for private landowners – especially working family farmers and ranchers – to protect their land with the voluntary donation of a conservation easement.

The enhanced incentive applies to a landowner’s federal income tax, and raises the deduction a donor can take for donating a voluntary conservation agreement from 30 percent of their income in any year to 50 percent, allows farmers and ranchers to deduct up to 100 percent of their income and increases the number of years over which a donor can take deductions from six to 16 years

This easement incentive, paired with the Virginia Land Preservation Tax Credit, which provides transferable tax credits to landowners who donate easements, has made it possible for conservation-minded landowners across the Commonwealth to permanently protect important farmland, forest land and our natural and historic resources.

When landowners donate a conservation easement, they maintain ownership and management of their land and can sell or pass the land on to their heirs – while foregoing future development rights.

“This enhanced deduction is important to many conservation-minded families who want to conserve community resources that we all benefit from – such as rivers and streams, important viewsheds, prime farming soils and important wildlife habitat – but can’t afford to give these development rights up without some compensation,” said Don Loock, land conservation officer with the Piedmont Environmental Council.

Landowners now have until Dec. 31, 2013 to take advantage of this significant tax deduction for donating a voluntary conservation agreement to permanently protect important natural or historic resources on their land.

For more information on conservation easements, contact Loock at 540-522-4222 or dloock@pecva.org.

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