DE Aglands Preservation Program

Delaware Department of Agriculture


Grant amount: Unspecified amount

Deadline: Rolling

Applicant type: For-Profit Business Nonprofit Working Professional

Funding uses: Applied Project / Program

Location of project: Delaware

Location of residency: Delaware

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Overview:

Agland Preservation Program

The Department of Agriculture manages Delaware’s Agricultural Lands (Aglands) Preservation Program. This program, established in 1991, allows landowners to voluntarily preserve their farms through a two-phase process. The first phase, which does not include any payment to the landowner, is known as an Agricultural Preservation District. In phase two, the landowner is paid to sell their farm’s development rights, known as an Agricultural Conservation Easement.

Agricultural Preservation Districts

A Preservation District is a ten-year, voluntary agreement where landowners agree to continue to use their land for agricultural purposes only. Landowners with forested tracts are also eligible to enroll their properties as a Forestland Preservation Area through the Forestland Preservation Program (although it currently has no funding

Prospective buyers of a property who wish to participate in the Aglands Preservation Program may enroll the property they wish to purchase in a Preservation District through a Contingent Sale Application (if the seller also agrees). The primary benefit of this application is that both buyer and seller are exempt from realty transfer tax on all unimproved land as long as the application is approved prior to settlement. If the settlement does not occur, the enrollment status becomes void. 

Agricultural Conservation Easements

In the second phase of the Aglands Preservation Program, landowners can (if they chose) permanently preserve their farmland by selling its development rights. The ten-year district agreement is then replaced by a permanent agricultural conservation easement on the land. Each year, funding permitting, the Aglands Program selects one round of farms to preserve. Landowners are eligible to submit a bid to sell their farm’s development rights the year after they enroll their farm into a District Agreement (for example if they enroll their farm into an ag district in 2018, then they are eligible to sell their farm’s development rights in 2019). Landowners bid against each other by offering a discount from the appraised development rights’ value of their property.

Farm and Tax Benefits

There are several benefits to landowners in an Agricultural District or Conservation Easement. The unimproved land in the district is exempt from real estate transfer, county, and school taxes. There are significant protections against nuisance suits for land in the district. Landowners are permitted limited residential uses. Permitted agricultural uses include but are not limited to: crop production, herd animal and poultry operations, horse operations, forest production, non-commercial hunting, trapping and fishing, and agricultural eco-tourism operations, as well as farm markets and roadside stands.

Congress has enacted laws that may benefit owners of preserved farmland. An easement that is either sold at less than appraised value or donated to the Foundation may qualify the owner for a deduction for income, gift or estate tax purposes. Rules governing taxes are complex; owners should consult competent tax advisors on these matters.

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Eligibility:

  • Agricultural Preservation District:
    • In order to qualify for the Agricultural Lands Preservation Program, the lands proposed as an Agricultural Preservation District in the application must meet the following minimum criteria:
      • owner(s) shall hold fee simple title to all land to be placed in a District and must be actively using the property for “agricultural and related uses”;
      • must constitute at least 200 acres of contiguous farmland or lesser acreage if the farmlands are located within three (3) miles of an established District;
      • shall be zoned for agricultural purposes and shall not be subject to any major subdivision plan;
      • applicant(s) including all fee simple title holders, must sign a written agreement committing to District restrictions set forth in this Section and 3 Del.C. §909 and other adopted requirements;
      • must be viable and productive agricultural land comprising a farm property unit and meet the minimum County Land Evaluation and Site Assessment (LESA) scoring requirements for eligibility as established by the Foundation;
      • must include all of the eligible real property located in the tax parcel or tax parcels subject to application.
    • For the purposes stated in this chapter, the phrase "viable and productive agricultural land" is defined as land that qualifies under provisions of the Farmland Assessment Act.
    • The minimum LESA score for an eligible District or Expansion shall be 170 points out of a possible 300 points for each county in the State as computed under the currently approved LESA program of the Delaware Department of Agriculture.
    • The LESA score for agricultural lands is the primary factor in evaluating the eligibility of agricultural lands for inclusion in Districts and expansions, including the eligibility for purchase of preservation easements.
  • Criteria for Purchase Agricultural Lands Preservation Easements:
    • The criteria for eligibility of acquisition of a Preservation Easement shall be the same as the criteria for district eligibility.
    • In addition, offered preservation easement lands shall be in an established district and in compliance with district requirements to be eligible.
    • The Foundation shall have the right, in its sole discretion, to acquire a Preservation Easement on only a part of the property included within the District Agreement.