Thursday, October 10, 2013

Keep Farmland for Farmers


The New York Times looks at some of the unintended consequences of conservation easements designed to prevent agricultural land from being developed:

Easements are intended to protect farmland, water, animal habitat, historic sites and scenic views, and so they are successful in keeping farms from becoming malls and subdivisions. But they don’t stop Wall Street bankers from turning them into private getaways, with price tags to match.

Few bankers farm; long days with little pay lack appeal. A new report by the National Young Farmers Coalition, a group we helped start, reveals that one-quarter of the land trusts that oversee these conservation easements have seen protected land go out of production. Why? A nonfarmer had bought it.

Steve Clowney

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The real victims of the farmland preservation movement are not young farmers who cannot afford land to grow unprofitable crops. The victims are potential homebuyers who would have lived in developments that are forestalled by this and other open space preservation devices, which I label zombie zoning. The donors of these easements take a fat tax break (appraisals are seldom contested by the IRS) and often get state tax credits. The IRS requires that they be perpetual easements (hence the zombie) and the opportunity cost of making the donation is often zero or negative, which makes them more or less like zoning--but without any serious public oversight.

Posted by: Bill Fischel | Oct 10, 2013 10:26:28 AM

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