Commissioner Ron Sparks has announced the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) will participate in the USDA Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program by providing matching funds of $550,000 to acquire development rights with conservation easements to keep productive farmland in agricultural usage.

This will be the Department’s second year to participate.

Thousands of acres of Alabama’s farmland are being lost each year to urban sprawl and other non-agricultural uses. The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP) provides funds that are then matched with funding provided by the Alabama Legislature.

Private landowners seeking the funds will receive assistance from the ADAI in developing proposals for the program.

“In both fiscal years 2006 and 2007, the Alabama Legislature has appropriated $550,000 for this program,” said Sparks. “Since the program was implemented in April 2006, Alabama landowners have requested enrollment for more than 3,200 acres into the Alabama Farmland Protection Program.”

A conservation easement is a legal document where the landowner sells the property development rights to the state for perpetuity, or forever. In exchange, the state pays the landowner the appraised fair market value of the conservation easement. The landowner can continue to farm the land, but the land can never be used for non-agricultural uses such as development.

To qualify for the program, the land must be at least 50 percent prime farmland and at least 50 percent crop land, pasture, or hay land. Prime farmland is land that is gently sloping to level, and is highly productive.

Applications for this year will be accepted through April 20, 2007 (received or postmarked). Those applications not selected and those received after the deadline, will be considered for future appropriation.

Anyone interested in applying for this program, should visit the Department of Agriculture and Industries Web site at agi.alabama.gov, or call Daniel Robinson at 334-240-7221 for more information.