Preserving farmland in Leelanau County

The Leelanau Conservation District is trying to preserve agricultural farming in Leelanau County.

In 2009, the Leelanau Conservancy, the Leelanau Conservation District, the Northwest Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station and Michigan State University Extension enrolled 5,000 acres of family-owned farms in Round I of the FarmAbility Program.

In April 2012, they began taking applications for Round II of the FarmAbility Program with an added cost-share benefit for GAP Certification.

Eligibility requirements are:

1. A farm or (portion of a farm) of 40 or more acres in one ownership, with 51% or more of the land area devoted to an agricultural use. For purposes of the 51% calculation, woodlot acreage in a verifiable sustainable management plan will be counted as an agricultural use as long as no less than 35% of the total acreage is in active agricultural use with annually harvested crop.

2. A farm of 5 acres or more in one ownership, but less than 40 acres, with 51% or more of the land area in agricultural use, and which produces a gross annual income from agriculture of $200 per year or more per acre of active farm land. Farm acreage enrolled in a federal conservation reserve program is considered to have met this income requirement.

3. A specialty farm under one ownership that has produced a gross annual income from agricultural use of $2,000 or more. Specialty farms may include community-supported agriculture; greenhouses; the breeding and grazing of livestock, pheasants and other game birds; bees and bee products; mushrooms; and other similar uses and activities.

The program operates on a â??first-come-first-servedâ?? basis until 5,000 acres are enrolled.

The Agreement provides for:

1. Annual cash payments of $10 per acre of active ag land; $5 per acre for woodlots, wetlands and other acreage with conservation value. Payments will not be tied to household income or property tax rates

2. Discounts of up to $250 annually on registration fees for approved workshops and seminars provided by sponsoring organizations

3. A cost-share benefit of up to $1,000 in matching funds over the 10-year term for estate and/or tax planning designed to help position the transfer of the farm to the next generation for farming

4. A one-time cost-share benefit of up to $500 in matching funds to assist growers defray the costs of obtaining GAP certification

To enroll, a member(s) of the farm family owning the land signs a 10-year Farm Conservation Agreement which will be recorded, run with the land and includes a right for the Leelanau Conservancy to match a bona fide offer to buy the farm if the would-be purchaser intends to convert the farm to non-agricultural uses after the 10-year term. In that event, the Conservancy will make every effort to permanently preserve the farm for ongoing agriculture and resell it for that purpose.

Visit the Conservation District's website for more information on the program.