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USDA Offers Assistance to Protect Agricultural Lands and Grasslands

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) encourages people and groups wanting to protect agricultural lands and grasslands to consider enrolling their property into conservation easements. The 2018 Farm Bill has provided USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) with technical and financial assistance to help private landowners, tribes, land trusts, and other groups protect these valuable lands.

The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) umbrella focuses on restoring and protecting wetlands as well as conserving productive agricultural lands and grasslands. Specifically, the Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) component provides landowners compensation for enrolling their land in a permanent easement. “Working with our conservation partners is essential to protecting agricultural land across Wisconsin,” said Angela Biggs, NRCS State Conservationist in Wisconsin. “The purpose of ACEP-ALE is to protect the agricultural use and future viability and related conservation values by preventing the conversion of these lands to other non-ag related uses.” To date, Wisconsin NRCS with our partners, have protected over 14,000 acres on over 100 parcels of privately-owned land.

Applications for ACEP are taken on a continuous basis, and they are ranked and considered for funding one time a year. The deadline for the Agricultural Land Easements is April 11, 2020, for 2020 funding consideration.

Agricultural Land Easements

Through ACEP-ALE, NRCS provides funds to conservation partners to purchase conservation easements on private working lands. This program helps keep working lands working, especially in areas experiencing development pressure.

Partners include state or local agencies and non-profit entities. Landowners continue to own their property but voluntarily enter into a legal agreement with a cooperating entity to purchase an easement. The cooperating entity applies for matching funds from NRCS for the purchase of an easement from the landowner, permanently protecting its agricultural use and conservation values. Landowners do not apply directly to NRCS for funding under this program.

All ALE easements are permanent. Eligible lands include privately owned cropland, rangeland, grassland, pastureland, and forestlands.

More information on ACEP-ALE can be found on the Wisconsin NRCS homepage under the Programs tab under the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program highlight: www.wi.nrcs.usda.gov