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Preserving NW Cropland, One Farm at a Time

June 16, 2011

WALLA WALLA, Wash. - Farmland is being swallowed up by development in parts of the Northwest, but some farmers are taking advantage of another option: a conservation easement that pays landowners to keep farming and ensures that when they retire, the next owners of the property will also farm.

PCC Farmland Trust inked such a deal this week with its ninth working farm, on the Washington-Oregon border. Rebecca Sadinsky, the trust's executive director, says they have a growing number of requests from farmers looking at the big picture for their land and their communities.

"Often, the people who really want to do this - whether they're farmers or landowners - is that there's some legacy that they want to keep alive. Farmers are pretty interested in all the work that they've done to create a good working operation, and they want to see that conserved."

The new easement is on the Williams Hudson Bay Farm near Walla Walla, a third-generation family farm which grows organic wheat, beans, alfalfa seed, hay, onions and more for local Northwest customers. Ray Williams says he and his brother have worked hard to become organic producers, and this step makes sense for their current business as well as the future of the land.

"We believe the conservation easement will enhance our marketing to our customers. I think they will respect it and appreciate our commitment to what we're trying to do, because it's in sync with what they're trying to do."

A conservation easement guarantees the long-term use of the land for farming by reducing its price and removing the possibility of land speculation, Sadinsky says.

"It's harder and harder to get into the business of farming because the land costs so much. The other purpose of buying the conservation easement is (that) it reduces the value of the land, and brings it down to a price that is what you could call 'farmer-ready.'"

The popularity of locally grown food has sparked more interest in conservation easements, says Sadinsky. The U.S. Department of Agriculture provided some of the funding for this one.

More about the conservation easement program is online at pccfarmlandtrust.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA