USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is now accepting applications from Virginia landowners and governmental and non-governmental groups interested in protecting the state’s wetlands and working farms through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).
This signup includes both the Wetland Reserve Easement (WRE) and Agricultural Land Easement (ALE) components of this 2014 Farm Bill program. Applications are accepted on a continual basis, but NRCS requires individuals interested in fiscal year 2017 funding to apply for WRE on or before December 2, and eligible entities to submit ALE applications by December 22.
WRE applicants must have farm records established with USDA’s Farm Service Agency and the land should have been owned for two years. Eligible land includes farmed wetlands that can be successfully and economically restored; former or degraded wetlands with a history of agricultural use; wetlands farmed under natural conditions; and “prior-converted” cropland converted on or before December 23, 1985. CRP land established with trees may also be eligible for enrollment through a waiver process.
Landowners have two options under WRE:
• Permanent easements: NRCS pays 100 percent of the easement value for the purchase of the easement. Additionally, NRCS pays up to 100 percent of the restoration costs.
• 30-Year easements: NRCS pays the landowner 50 to 75 percent of the easement value for the purchase of the easement and 50 to 75 percent of the restoration costs.
ALE focuses on saving productive crop, grass, pasture, and nonindustrial private forestland from conversion to non-agricultural uses. Eligible partners include state and local governments and non-governmental organizations that have farmland or grassland protection programs. Under ALE, NRCS may contribute up to 50 percent of the fair market value of the agricultural land easement.
“It really takes a ‘village’ to close a conservation easement and we have a great team of dedicated conservationists, easement specialists and partners in Virginia,” said Virginia State Conservationist Jack Bricker. “Last year, we received 13 additional ACEP applications. We’re looking forward to another great year in 2017.
Applications are available at the local USDA Service Center and online at www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted. Learn more about ACEP and other Farm Bill programs at www.va.nrcs.usda.gov.