Frequently Asked Questions
Farmland Protection Program and Conservation Easements
The mission of the Preston County Farmland Protection Board is to protect productive farmland for future generations in order to maintain the long-term viability of agriculture in Preston County in accordance with West Virginia State Code §8A-12-1 et seq.
We accomplish our work through holding purchased and donated conservation easements, collaborating with like-minded organizations, and providing community outreach and education to raise awareness about farmland protection.
As of October 2021, the Preston County Farmland Protection Board has helped 8 landowners protect 1,107 acres of farmland. Many landowners in the community are interested in understanding how a conservation easement works and if it is right for their farm.
What is a conservation easement?
A Deed of Conservation Easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and county farmland protection board that permanently retires the development rights on a property in order to protect the scenic and natural features of the land. The landowner sells or donates the easement and retains the title to the property and the right to farm it, subject to certain, specific restrictions that prohibit future real estate development or commercial or industrial use.
Why should I consider putting my property into a conservation easement?
Landowners can use easements to help reach important goals. The most common reasons are to keep their family land intact, to prevent future owners from subdividing the property, or to use the payment for the conservation easement to meet financial goals.
Who else besides the Farmland Protection Board is involved with the easement?
If you are seeking the full value of the easement, the Board may apply for matching funds from other partners. Federal partners are the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the West Virginia Agricultural Land Protection Authority (WVALPA) also offers matching funds.
What are easements with USDA and NRCS?
NRCS easements, called Agricultural Land Easements, (ALE) focus on protecting productive agricultural land as well as natural resources such as water, air and soils along with woodland and wildlife. NRCS easements permit construction of agricultural buildings in identified areas, building of ponds, and other activities that enhance farm operations.
Can I change my mind after I apply to the Farmland Protection Program?
Yes. If circumstances cause you to withdraw your application, the Board appreciates plenty of notice. Once we accept an application, we invest a great deal of time and resources including legal, appraisal and surveying services to complete the easement.
I’ve heard of 30-year conservation easements – are these legal in West Virginia?
They are not. Some states allow for time-specific easements (Maryland is one of them). Under West Virginia law all conservation and preservation easements must be perpetual.
Are easements forever or do they expire when I sell the property?
A conservation easement under West Virginia Law (and U.S. IRS regulations) must be perpetual. Once an easement is placed on a property it will run with the land forever.
Can I buy the easement back?
No. Under both West Virginia Law and U.S. IRS regulations, easements are perpetual. They may only be voided by judicial action and then, only for government condemnations.
Can my easement be changed?
Under both West Virginia law and U.S. IRS regulations, an easement may be changed or modified only for very specific reasons: (1) to correct a defect or mistake in the original easement, or (2) to substantially strengthen the easement (for example, to include more land in the easement). No other reason is valid or legal.
Can I sell my property once the easement is in effect?
Yes. After the easement is established, the property owner still owns the land and is free to convey it by any means. The Farmland Protection Board (and any other named co-holders or entities with third-party interests, USDA, NRCS or WV Authority) own the subdivision/development rights on the property, not the property itself.
I’d like to give my children a place to build. Can I do that once the easement is in effect?
Once the easement is placed on the property, you cannot subdivide it. If you wish to have residential parcels for the future, they must be created and surveyed before creating the conservation easement.
Can I continue to build on my land with an easement?
It depends upon the terms of the Deed of Easement. Most easements have a 2.0-acre residential envelope around an existing residence (or planned for a future residence). Within this area you may continue to build residential and accessory structures, up to a specific impervious surface area limit. Impervious surface means a surface that has been covered with a layer of material so that it is highly resistant to infiltration by water. Agricultural structures may also be built (again, up to a specific impervious surface area limit). NRCS easements require a defined farmstead area for agricultural structures. Easements held by the Board alone may permit agricultural structures anywhere on the easement. In general, the overall impervious surface area cap is 2% of the total easement area.
Can the easement restrict what I can grow?
The easement does not dictate what you grow. It does require that your property has a Conservation Plan, and that the agricultural and natural resources are protected. Typically, NRCS works with landowners to create a Conservation Plan to guide best practices for managing their land. The Farmland Protection Board does not regulate what you produce or your Conservation Plan.
How long does it take to place property into a conservation easement?
There are several stages:
- You must apply to the program, and your property is ranked in comparison to other applications. Because funding is limited, only the highest-ranked applications will be selected.
- If you are accepted, and you seek full funding, the Farmland Protection Board can apply for matching federal funds, from the NRCS or WVALPA. It can take several years to close an easement with federal or state funds. If only local funds are used it generally takes 12-18 months.
How is an easement valued? How much will I be paid?
Easements are valued using a restricted use appraisal prepared by a state certified general appraiser. This industry-accepted appraisal establishes two values: the current fair market value and the current restricted use value. The former is the value of your property to a willing buyer at competitive market prices while the latter is the value of your land as if encumbered by a perpetual easement. The difference between these two amounts is the development value and that is the value of the conservation easement. Under West Virginia law, the Board cannot pay more than the appraised value of the easement.
Why didn’t my farm appraise for more?
Many factors affect a property’s value. Limited road frontage, a narrow access, or being largely in a flood plain will lower the market value of land. Often, folks’ figure that if a 2-acre lot in the neighborhood is worth $40,000 per acre, then their 100-acre farm will be worth $4,000,000. Land prices don’t work that way. Smaller lots are more desirable and have higher market values. Larger parcels can cost a developer millions of dollars to build a subdivision, so they will only pay so much for a large tract.
Do I pay tax on the money I receive from selling the easement on my land? Yes. When you sell the easement, you are receiving funds from the sale of real estate value. This is taxed at the federal and state level. You are strongly urged to seek a financial advisor and legal advice to determine your tax situation.
Why would I consider donating any of the easement value that I could receive?
As mentioned above, you will be taxed on the sale of your easement. If you donate some or all of the easement value, you may use that contribution against your federal income tax and carry it forward for 15 years. Again, consult your financial advisor to understand how a donation may affect your finances.