The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation has voiced support for a working lands variant of the conservation easement template approved this spring by the Virginia Outdoor Foundation.

A conservation easement is a legal agreement in which farmers voluntarily limit the amount of development that takes place on their land.

"An easement locks in what you can and can’t do on your land, and it’s forever," said Trey Davis, VFBF assistant director of governmental relations.

"This template is a variation of the standard conservation template, but it gives farmers options to alter their operations in the future, which is why Virginia Farm Bureau strongly supports it."

That support, "has been crucial, and has greatly helped with our success to date," said Kevin Schmidt, Office of Farmland Preservation coordinator for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

"This support will be even more important as we begin to provide outreach to the agricultural community on the working lands variant and conservation easement options for working farm and forest landowners."

The VOF protects a large amount of working land itself. However, VDACS sought to incorporate the expertise of various organizations in a small collaborative group setting in creating the template. The state Department of Forestry, the Virginia Agribusiness Council and the Valley Conservation Council, among others, contributed as well.

The template was created to help accomplish a goal of 400,000 acres of conserved land set by Gov. Bob McDonnell. "I think it’s a step in the right direction," Davis said. "It’s a worthy goal, and, hopefully, our members can continue to weigh the pros and cons of conservation easements."

Farm Bureau plans to inform its members about the new template at its upcoming annual convention. Representatives from VDACS and VOF will outline the specifics and benefits of conservation easements on farmland.