Agricultural District Programs allow farmers to form special areas where commercial agriculture is encouraged and protected. Programs are authorized by state legislatures and implemented at the local level. Enrollment in agricultural districts is voluntary. In exchange for enrollment farmers receive a package of benefits that varies from state to state.
- Agricultural Districts Fact Sheet
- State Agricultural Districts Enabling Statutes
- Agricultural Districts Sample Documents
Tax incentives are widely used to maintain the economic viability of farming. All states have at least one program designed to reduce the amount of money farmers are required to pay in local real property taxes.
The most important type of agricultural tax program is the differential assessment, also known as current use assessment and use value assessment. Nearly every state has a differential assessment program that allows officials to assess farmland at its agricultural use value, rather than its fair market value, which is generally higher. Three states—Michigan, New York and Wisconsin —allow farmers to claim state income tax credits to offset their local property tax bills. These programs are called “circuit breakers” because they relieve farmers of real property taxes that exceed a certain percentage of their income. Iowa and New York offer a credit against school taxes on agricultural land.
- Differential Assessment and Circuit Breaker Tax Programs Fact Sheet
- Differential Assessment and Circuit Breaker Enabling Statutes
Farm viability programs provide technical assistance, and in some cases grants, to improve the profitability of farm operations. A relatively recent public policy development, these programs offer various degrees of state funding for individualized farm business, financial and market planning, as well as for the implementation of on-farm practices and capital projects identified in the planning process. Some of the programs include farmland protection and resource conservation components, and some restrict participation in the program to certain types of farms. All of them assume that changes at the farm level—be it better management of existing resources, or a new direction in marketing and/or products offered – can lead to enhanced farm profitability.
- Connecticut Farm Enhancement Program
- Maine Farms for the Future Program
- Massachusetts Farm Viability Enhancement Program
- Minnesota Dairy Development and Profitability Enhancement Program
- New Jersey Stewardship Program
- New York Farmland Viability Projects (a Grow New York program)
- Maryland Department of Agriculture Agribusiness Development Program
- New York Watershed Agricultural Council
- New York Catskill Watershed Corporation
- Ohio State University Extension Service Agricultural Business Enhancement Center
- Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management/Division of Agriculture Farm Viability Grant Program
- Pennsylvania Small Business First Program
- Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Porgram
Purchase of agricultural conservation easement (PACE) programs pay property owners to keep productive land available for agriculture. PACE is known as purchase of development rights (PDR) in many locations. Landowners voluntarily sell agricultural conservation easements to public entities to prevent it from being converted to other uses. After selling an easement, the landowner retains other rights of ownership including the right to farm the land, prevent trespass, sell bequeath or otherwise transfer the land.
- PACE Fact Sheet
- Sample Agricultural Conservation Easement Language
- Selected Easement Documents
- State PACE Enabling Laws
- Find a PACE Program
Right-to-farm laws protect agricultural viability by providing farmers with protections from private nuisance lawsuits that may be brought by neighbors. Right-to-farm laws also protect farmers from anti-nuisance ordinances and other unreasonable regulations of farming operations. Farmers who use good management practices often use right-to-farm laws to prevail in lawsuits. Every state includes some form of right-to-farm protections under state law and a growing number of counties and municipalites are passing their own ordinances to supplement the protection provided by state law.
The ACEP-ALE program is administered by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service and supports agricultural viability in several ways. First, it provides liquid capital for farmers to invest in their operations. ACEP-ALE also strengthens the agricultural sector in communities with participating farms. Easement proceeds spent of agricultural purposes tend to be spent locally. Money invested in agricultural land - reducing or eliminating debt or acquiring new land - is spent at local agriculturally related businesses. ACEP-ALE also helps partners assemble blocks of protected land. Protected farms and ranches are often close to other agricultural land or open space. Creating core agricultural areas supports a range of agricultural activities, sustains vital ancillary businesses, helps avoid land use conflicts and keeps operating costs down.
The Cooperative Extension System is a nationwide, non-credit educational network supported by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Each U.S. state and territory has a state office at its land-grant university and a network of local or regional offices with experts who provide useful, practical, and research-based information to agricultural producers and small business owners. State and county extension office staff respond to public inquires, conduct workshops and create educational materials to provide farm business management assistance that meets the needs of farmers and ranchers. Program options may include business planning assistance as well as enterprise and financial analysis.
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is a voluntary program administered by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. EQIP provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers to plan and implement conservation practices that improve soil, water, plant, animal, air and related natural resources on agricultural land and non-industrial private forestland. EQIP may also help producers meet Federal, State, Tribal, and local environmental regulations.
SARE's mission is to advance—to the whole of American agriculture—innovations that improve profitability, stewardship and quality of life by investing in groundbreaking research and education. SARE operates nationally across four region. SARE accomplishes its mission in part through a grants and education program that advances and promotes agricultural innovation, profitability, stewardship of the land, air and water, and quality of life for farmers, ranchers and their communities. Since 1988, SARE has provided funding for more than 5,000 projects and has provided grants to farmers, ranchers, extension agents and educators, researchers, nonprofits, students, communities and others.
The Value Added Producer Grant program is administered by USDA Rural Development and helps agricultural producers enter into value-added activities related to the processing and/or marketing of bio-based, value-added products. Priority may be given to a beginning farmer or rancher, a socially-disadvantaged farmer or rancher, a small or medium-sized farm or ranch structured as a family farm, a farmer or rancher cooperative. Each fiscal year, applications are requested through an announcement posted on Grants.gov.