According to new statistics released by American Farmland Trust’s Farmland Information Center, the efforts of state governments to protect agricultural land through purchase of agricultural conservation easement (PACE) programs slowed during 2008, probably due to record high land values. PACE programs pay farmers and ranchers to permanently protect their land with conservation easements that limit future development and keep the farmland available for agriculture.

The survey of PACE programs in 23 states found that states spent more than $336 million to protect 121,373 acres of farm and ranch land in 2008. Although states spent 14 percent more than they did in 2007, they protected 28 percent fewer acres, and acquired 33 percent fewer easements.

Next year’s news may be worse. Although land values have dropped, the economic downturn and state budget shortfalls have impacted funding for farmland protection, even in states with typically well-funded programs.

For example, the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Program will not accept new applications in fiscal year 2010 because the program’s funding sources — a dedicated portion of the real estate transfer tax and the agricultural transfer tax — are generating less revenue. Instead, funds will be used to address the backlog from fiscal year 2009.

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Source: American Farmland Trust