WASHINGTON - The nation's top easement program for protecting fertile agricultural land is making it easier for people to enroll land through advanced certification.
The Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program is certifying eligible entities, such as states, organizations or tribes, to place lands in this Farm Bill conservation easement program.
USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service administers the program that has protected more than 2 million acres of the nation's most valuable lands for the production of food, feed and fiber since 1996.
This program provides matching funds to organizations to purchase conservation easements on private working lands.
"Certification is the recognition of a successful partnership between the entity and NRCS, meaning they've already successfully implemented the program and don't need direct NRCS involvement," said Jeremy Stone, the program's manager. "It allows them to streamline their processes and get more conservation on the ground faster."
State, tribal or local governments and non-governmental organizations as well as other entities that become certified have more flexibility and a shorter process to acquire easements. Certified organizations may enter into longer-term cooperative agreements and conduct the program's closings without prior submission of individual appraisals, deeds or title documents for NRCS review.
To qualify for certification, an eligible organization must hold, manage and monitor a minimum of five of the program's conservation easements. For a full list of the certification criteria, see the program's web page.
Entities may apply for certification by submitting a letter of request and application materials to the NRCS state conservationist where they're seeking certification at any time. Although this is a continuous application process, to be considered for the first certification round in the 2014 program year, applications must be received by January 3, 2014.
These easements ensure that productive farms and ranches will be kept in agricultural uses forever.
"In order to feed the increasing world population, we must ensure farmers and ranchers have prime agricultural land available. FRPP plays a crucial role in keeping land in agricultural uses and certifying entities make that process easier," NRCS Chief Jason Weller said.
For more information on the application materials required for certification, contact the NRCS FRPP manager in your state.