Funds run out for program that protects farm land

October 24, 2003|ANN R. HARNEY

HARRODSBURG - The future of a program that protects farm land from development is in jeopardy.

Steve Coleman, director of the state Division of Conservation and chairman of the Kentucky Agriculture Water Quality Authority, talked about the program Thursday at the third annual Farm City Breakfast.

The Purchase of Agriculture Conservation Easements program is popular among Mercer County farmers. At least 23 easements in the county have been approved by the PACE program and other easement applications are in the process of approval, but those and others may never be approved.

"We're broke," said Coleman, who also serves on the board governing the PACE program. The program needs money to compensate the property owners who put their land in the program. Putting land in the program means it can never be developed for either commercial or residential uses.


The program assesses the value of the land for both agricultural and development uses and the farmer is paid for setting the land aside. Coleman said the average amount paid to property owners has been $875 per acre.

The 23 approved easements in Mercer County include 4,277 acres. To add more to those numbers both in Mercer County and in the state, the state General Assembly will have to set aside money for the program.

"Without state money, we can't seek federal funds," Coleman told the more than 200 people gathered at Lions Park Community Center for the breakfast that began at 7:30 a.m. The state has 500 applications pending, but without funding, the qualified land cannot be approved and funded, he said.

About 100 of those pending applications came from Mercer County.

Overall, the program has purchased agricultural conservation easements on 61 farms totaling 12,432 acres for $10,652,081. The farm size has averaged 204 acres.

In addition, 15 easements on 2,672 acres have been donated to the program, bringing the total inventory to 76 farms containing 15,103 acres. Property owners who donate land to the program can receive tax benefits.

The breakfast is a joint effort of local agriculture and business organizations, including Mercer County Farm Bureau, Mercer County Conservation District, Mercer County Cooperative Extension Service and Mercer Chamber of Commerce.

The cost of the tickets, $3, is kept low by the sponsorship of First Financial Bank, Community Trust Bank, Farmers National Bank, State Bank and Trust Co., Farm Credit Services and Lawrenceburg National Bank.

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