State PACE programs are protecting over 3.4 million acres as of January 2022


The American Farmland Trust publishes the results of its annual survey of government PACE (Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement) programs.

Acquisition of agricultural conservation easement programs uses public funds to compensate landowners for keeping their land available for agriculture. (Stock photo via formulanone, Flickr/Creative Commons)

WASHINGTON – The American Farmland Trust’s Farmland Information Center recently released the results of its annual survey of state PACE (Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement) programs. Acquisition of agricultural conservation easement programs uses public funds to compensate landowners for keeping their land available for agriculture. The results of the 2022 survey are summarized in Status of State Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement Programs.

As of the beginning of this calendar year, PACE programs in 30 states have invested more than $5 billion in state funds to acquire nearly 18,500 easements and permanently protect more than 3.4 million acres. Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, and Massachusetts lead the nation in acquired easements, while Colorado, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, and California have previously protected acres (see maps). Key partners including local governments, the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service and other federal agencies, foundations and landowners have spent an additional $3 billion to complete these projects.

Annual trends show an increased pace of protection, lower acquisition costs, and an increase in local compliance

In 2021, the programs reported acquiring 589 easements on approximately 106,700 acres, disbursing over $183.7 million in government funds and mobilizing more than $118 million from other sources for business. In a single year, program activities in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Ohio and New Jersey topped the list of acquired easements. California, Pennsylvania, New York, Colorado and Maryland lead for protected acres (see tables).

While annual government spending fell 3%, total funds invested in easement purchases increased 8% from 2020 levels. This reflects an almost 31% increase in funding from non-government sources, as reported by program managers . Local government contributions represented the largest portion of non-government funding, up 70%. The value of landowner donations has also more than doubled, while the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program – Agricultural Land Easement component (ACEP-ALE) added another 18% which raised non-government dollars. ACEP-ALE is a voluntary federal conservation program administered by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that protects agricultural land from conversion to nonagricultural uses. ACEP-ALE provides eligible entities with appropriate funds to purchase conservation easements on farmland and ranch land.

The number of easements acquired in 2021 decreased from 2020, but the total area protected increased by more than 12% year-on-year. Notably, the average easement size increased by 28% from 141 acres per easement in 2020 to 181 acres per easement in 2021 – also an increase from the average easement sizes of 2018 and 2019.

Meanwhile, average acquisition costs were at their lowest level in four years. Based on total funds spent, the average cost of protecting one hectare of farmland or ranch land decreased 3% from $2,926 per hectare in 2020 to $2,833 in 2021.

AFT’s Farmland Information Center has conducted its annual survey of state PACE programs since 1995. The 2022 State PACE Program Survey collects information about transactions completed during calendar year 2021 and summarizes cumulative data through January 2022. Other nationwide surveys conducted by the Farmland Information Center include an overview of local PACE programs and land trusts that protect farmland. The data collected through these surveys helps AFT track the progress of programs in the field that are working to save our nation’s farmlands.

For more information on purchasing farm protection easements, visit AFT’s Farmland Information Center website. The FIC is a clearing house for information related to farmland conservation and management and is a public-private partnership between the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the American Farmland Trust.

American Farmland Trust is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. AFT started the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through ourNo farms, no foodMessage. Since our founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 7 million acres of farmland, advance environmentally sound farming practices on another half a million acres, and support thousands of farming families.

– American Farmland Trust