The Virginia Farmland Preservation Fund reached a milestone by securing more than 100 conservation easements for working farm and forest land.
Through matching funds that support local purchase of development rights programs, the farmland preservation program empowers localities to limit development on the farm and forest land that each community has deemed a priority for conservation.
Jimmy Messick, a Fauquier County farmer and owner of Messick’s Farm Market, has enrolled 700 acres of farmland in the program. His farm was where Gov. Ralph Northam announced the achievement and issued a proclamation commemorating the milestone.
“We did the first plan six or seven years ago, and the second one about three years ago,” Messick explained. “It helped us retire some debt.”
He added that enrolling land in the PDR program allowed him to diversify his farm by adding a market and helped offset the cost of the new facility. “One of the benefits of the program is you realize the equity in your property without selling it. It also helps with rights of way and powerline easements and helps preserve the property.”
Northam said his administration has made farmland and forestland retention “one of our highest priorities, recognizing the significant contributions these lands make to our economy and the important role they have in Virginia’s history and outstanding quality of life.
“Together with our conservation partners, we are making the necessary investments in our communities to help maintain the rural and agricultural character of our commonwealth and ensure our working lands remain unfettered by development and available for continued agriculture and forestry production.”
Virginia Farm Bureau Federation assistant director of governmental relations Stefanie Kitchen said Farm Bureau has been instrumental in the creation of the farmland preservation fund as well as the Office of Farmland Preservation.
“We have continuously fought for money each year since its creation,” Kitchen said. “We believe this has been an important program to offer another method for farmers to work with people locally to preserve their farms. In 2012, the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission concluded that this program effectively leveraged both local and private funds, which makes those partnerships even stronger.”
Since 2008, 16 localities have used state funding to purchase 102 conservation easements covering 13,917 acres at a cost of $32.9 million. Participating localities contributed $15.2 million toward those projects, with the Virginia Farmland Preservation Fund providing $11.9 million and the remainder coming from a combination of federal, state and private funds.
Conservation easements supported by the fund perpetually guarantee that properties, like Messick’s will remain working farms and forests.
The Virginia Farmland Preservation Fund was created by the Virginia General Assembly in 2001 to educate the public on the importance of farmland preservation, to help farmers preserve their land and transition their business between generations, and to assist local governments in developing additional farmland preservation policies and programs