HC home to state’s first USDA ag conservation easement
Members of the George Rogers Clark Land Trust, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and other partners recently met in Corydon to sign papers to close on the first conservation easement in Indiana under the Agricultural Land Easement Program’s Agricultural Land Easement component. The easement will permanently protect 177-plus acres of farmland along Corydon-Ramsey Road south of Ramsey.
The effort started more than two years ago when Steve and Teresa Haggard of Corydon became concerned about the drastic changes brought about by development in the rural areas of Harrison County. The Shaffer-Haggard farm has been in their family for almost four decades, and the Haggards want to keep it as working farmland for future generations.
That’s how they met Pat Larr, president of the George Rogers Clark Land Trust.
Larr has a long history as a respected conservationist in the region. In the 1990s, she and other members of the conservation partnership in Clark County saw firsthand how prime farmland was disappearing in southeast Indiana at an alarming rate and decided to take action. They worked with the Historic Hoosier Hills Resources Conservation and Development Councils to establish a land trust to serve the area.
“People want to work with people they know,” said Larr. “There are many land trusts in Indiana, and most any of them could have worked with the Haggards. But, it makes more sense to donate an easement to a group like us that is in touch with agricultural production and can monitor land use on a regular basis.”
In January 2018, the Trust applied for and received a grant from the Harrison’s County Land Conservation Program that allowed them to provide the cash match required for the easement and submit an application for federal funding through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program.
Eric Wise, who is the county planner for Harrison County and secretary of the Land Conservation Program, has worked closely with the Trust through the application process.
“I’m very proud this is the sixth farm that has been protected as a result of the county’s land conservation program,” said Wise. “It’s rewarding to see partnership efforts like this where local funds leverage federal dollars to help farmers keep farming and improve the community’s quality of life for future generations.”
Jerry Raynor, NRCS state conservationist attended the closing ceremony on Oct. 29 and applauds the Trust for its vision and efforts to start the ball rolling in Indiana.
“American Farmland Trust recently reported we have lost nearly 13 million acres of farmland across the nation in 2019,” he said. “That’s alarming to me, especially since the land we are losing is some of the best for farming in the entire world. If we’re going to feed and clothe nine billion people by the year 2050, we have to find ways to continue to farm, and I believe conservation easements are a great option.”
Others attending the signing were Gerald Roach, assistant state conservationist with the NRCS; Beth Clarizia, state easement specialist with the NRCS; George Rogers Clark Trust Board representatives Tami Kruer (executive secretary/treasurer), Jim Heitkemper and Jennifer Thompson; and Christian Freitag, director of the Conservation Law Center in Bloomington.
Through the Agricultural Land Easement Program, the NRCS helps groups like the George Rogers Clark Trust protect working agricultural lands by limiting non-agricultural uses of the land. It’s a partnership between the landowners, the entity that holds the easement and the NRCS to ensure the farm is maintained as working agricultural land.
Steve Haggard said he was thrilled to be part of the program, especially since it allows the land that’s been in his family for decades to remain undeveloped. He and his children can continue to farm it, if they so desire, and the program allows for one home to be built on the site if the family wishes to do so.
Larr expressed appreciation for everyone involved.
“This event would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of the Trust’s board of directors and all the partners around the table,” she said. “In addition, the Conservation Law Center in Bloomington was instrumental in achieving this goal by providing a critical service that enabled us to become a legal organization and the conservation easements we draft and hold to be rock solid. It’s a win-win for agriculture and the environment.”
Raynor hopes to work with more land trusts, county governments and entities like the Harrison County Land Conservation Program in the coming years to protect working farmland in Indiana using ACEP.
For more information about USDA wetland and farmland conservation easements, visit your local NRCS district conservationist or https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/in/programs/easements/.
Photo by Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor