Centre County’s Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) Program actively preserves farmland by compensating landowners for the development rights they give up when they place an Agricultural Conservation Easement on their property. The Centre County PACE Program was initiated in 1989 in accordance with Act 149 and is administered by the Centre County Planning and Community Development Office in cooperation with the Agricultural Land Preservation Board.
The source of ongoing state funding for the program is a 2-cent per pack tax on cigarettes, which generates approximately $20 million a year for the program (each pack-a-day smoker provides about $7.30 a year).
Centre County contributes matching funds to the PACE Program annually, and interest collected from Clean and Green property conversions is also used to purchase Agricultural Conservation Easements.
How Successful Has the Program Been?
In the past 30 years, funds from all of the sources described above have been used to purchase the development rights on more than 6,202 farms protected through permanent agricultural conservation easements as of April 13, 2023. Pennsylvania ranks first in the nation with more than 624,277 acres permanently preserved in 58 counties.
Easements Purchased in Centre County
Funds have been used to purchase 64 permanent Agricultural Conservation Easements on 9,410 acres of farmland in Centre County. The County's preserved farms are in Benner, Ferguson, Harris, Marion, Potter, Spring and Walker townships. Currently, there is a waitlist of approximately 31 active applications from landowners interested in preserving their farms through the PACE program.
Preserved Farmland Remains Privately Owned
Farmland preservation is significantly different from open space preservation.
- The land being preserved is part of a productive, privately owned tax paying business enterprise.
- The purpose of purchasing the development rights is to preserve productive agricultural land for future use. The American Farmland Trust reports that more than "half the value of U.S. farm production — including 80 percent of our fruits and vegetables and more than half of our dairy products — are produced in rapidly urbanizing counties."
- The Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements does not involve the outright purchase of the farmland — only the purchase of development rights (the right to build homes, stores, and factories on the land).
- The land remains the private property of the farmer — and it remains on the tax rolls.
- The farmer can sell the land for agricultural purposes.
- Development rights are purchased to allow the farmer to recoup the difference between the value of the land for development purposes and the value as farmland.
- In Centre County, the average price paid per acre for development rights is currently $2,335.
To apply for the PACE Program, eligible farms must:
- Be located in a duly established, recorded Agricultural Security Area of 500 acres or more. Proof of enrollment will be documented.
- Have implemented and are adhering to a conservation plan that meets best practice requirements established by the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). An NRCS approved and implemented conservation plan is required to move a PACE application forward.
- Be contiguous acreage of at least 50 acres in size unless the tract is at least 10 acres in size and is used for a crop unique to the area OR is contiguous to a property with a perpetual conservation easement in place that is held by a "qualified conservation organization," as that term is defined in Section 170(h)3 of the Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C.A. 170(h)3). "Contiguous acreage" is defined as all portions of one operational unit as described in the deed, or deeds, whether or not described as multiple tax parcels, tracts, purparts or other property identifiers. It includes supportive lands such as unpaved field access roads, drainage areas, border strips, hedgerows, submerged lands, marshes, ponds and streams.
- Contain 50 percent of soils that are available for agricultural production and are of capability Classes I through IV, as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service; Contain the greater of 50 percent or 10 acres of harvested cropland, pasture or grazing lands.
- If harvested cropland, be capable of producing sustained yields per acre equal to the county average yield per acre for that crop, as published by the Pennsylvania Agricultural Statistical Service (PASS).
- For crop yields not reported by PASS, the farmland tract must demonstrate a history of sustained yields by reporting the volume of farm sales over a two-year period.
Farm owners may apply for the PACE program any time throughout the year. While there is no annual deadline to apply, applicants are evaluated once annually, beginning in March. New applications received after the annual evaluation will be evaluated the following year. Top ranked applicants are presented to the Centre County Agricultural Land Preservation Board for approval at the board's April meeting. Once approved by the County, applications are processed to meet the Commonwealth's requirements and are presented to the Pennsylvania Agricultural Land Preservation Board for final approval. Closing on each easement takes place 4 - 5 months after approval by the State's board. Beginning with approval by the County board and continuing through closing and payment, the entire application process takes approximately 1-1/2 years. Download application
Applicant farms are scored and ranked using a Land Evaluation Site Assessment (LESA) program. The program assigns weighted scores to a parcel based on soil quality, acreage, development pressure, clustering potential, and other factors. Farms are selected for the PACE Program in order of rank.
To learn more about the PACE program or schedule an appointment to discuss the application process, please contact Diana Griffith, Centre County Ag Land Preservation Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (814) 355-6791.
- PACE Program Guide
Aimed at current and prospective PACE applicants, a step-by-step guide to preserving farmland in Centre County through the Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) program
- PACE Questions and Answers
- Centre County Guidelines
Approved and adopted by the Centre County Agricultural Land Preservation Board in keeping with the State’s minimum requirements, this document includes a comparison of the State’s and County’s minimum criteria for meeting easement requirements, a detailed summary of the farmland ranking system and the procedures for preparing each application for approval by the State Board.
- A Guide to Farmland Preservation (Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture)
This third edition of “A Guide to Farmland Preservation,” in accordance with Pennsylvania Act 43 of 1981, as amended, will help guide local programs through the process of preparing agricultural conservation easement purchase applications for consideration by the State Board.
- Municipal Partnership Program
Municipal partnerships allow the Centre County Agricultural Land Preservation Board (CCALPB) to leverage municipal dollars to preserve more prime farmland acres faster. By helping the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Centre County place an agricultural conservation easement on a farm, participating municipalities demonstrate their investment in farmers in their communities and also jointly hold the development rights to each farm they preserve.
This publication documents the achievements and initiatives we undertook in 2022 – most notably in growing the number of farm preservation projects we have in progress and expanding our educational endeavors. The PACE program is now managing 60 easements across 16 Centre County townships, and we will have 65 agricultural conservation easements by the end of 2023.
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