Farmland preservation effort seeks to protect nearly 3,800 acres

The Tecumseh Land Trust has protected about 24,000 acres of farmland from development and hopes to protect more than 4,000 more this year through conservation easements at the cost of $1.6 million.

The non-profit organization, which serves Clark and Greene counties, recently asked county commissioners to support an application with the Ohio Department of Agriculture to receive funding to purchase easements for 20 properties in Clark County totaling 3,795 acres and 590 acres in Greene County.

Michele Burns, associate director of the land trust, said the Tecumseh Land Trust has already received $550,000 from Clean Ohio Fund and hopes to receive over $1 million from the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, formerly known as the Farm & Ranch Land Protection Program.

Burns said the Department of Agriculture’s farmland protection program has helped secure conservation easements and preserved agriculture throughout Ohio since 2002.

“In Ohio and Clark County, the No. 1 industry is agriculture, so it provides security that the industry will be here and the support services will stay in our area,” Burns said.

Burns said the Tecumseh Land Trust is second in land conservation only to the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to preserving land of northern Ohio.

The organization may only receive enough funding to prevent development on about 1,200 acres of farms in Clark and Greene counties, according to Burns.

Most of the land the Tecumseh Land Trust is seeking easements for is in Harmony and Pleasant townships. A few other parcels are in Pike, Madison and Green townships.

Greg Kaffenbarger, who owns Kaffenbarger Farms in Pike Twp. with his wife, Brenda, has two farms totalling 357 acres included in the Tecumseh Land Trust application. He said he wants to prevent his farms from ever being developed.

“There is no more farmland being made. We need to preserve what we have,” Greg Kaffenbarger said. “There’s farmland every day nationwide being developed into a housing development or a strip mall. We need to preserve as much farmland as we can.”

Easement values are based on the difference between the developable real estate and the farm values. For example, if it’s appraised at $9,000 an acre as a developable property and the farm value is $4,000 an acre, the easement value is $5,000 per acre, Burns said.

Kaffenbarger learned about the organization through other farmers in the area. He said the organization can prevent heirs or their spouses from selling the land for development use in years to come.

“It helps landowners get added value for their land instead of selling it off in lots,” Kaffenbarger said. “We value farmland. Every time you put up a house or any structure that’s on good farmland, that will never be the same. … To me it just makes sense.”

Burns said the property is considered a charitable donation that the owners can use as a deduction with their adjusted gross income.

Matthew Harbage, easement specialist for the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Easement Program, allocated about $6.5 million to programs statewide to secure easements last year.

Harbage said the Tecumseh Land Trust is one of Ohio’s top tier organizations that apply for dozens of conservation easements annually.

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