Thank you to Nicole Anderson Ellis and Style Weekly for the well-written and researched article on land conservation efforts in Virginia ("Where the Grass is Greener, Cover Story, July 16). As one of several state agencies involved in meeting Gov. Kaine's laudable goal of preserving 400,000 additional acres of land by the end of his administration, we take the loss of productive farm and forest land occurring across the Commonwealth seriously, and are working hard to address this loss.
In January 2007, our department opened the Office of Farmland Preservation, which since that time has worked closely with members of the General Assembly, the Office of the Attorney General, other state agencies, agricultural and conservation organizations, local governments and individual landowners to develop tools and techniques to help permanently preserve Virginia's working farmlands, which, according to the most recent estimates, are disappearing at a rate of greater than 23,000 acres per year.
Your article does an excellent job pointing out the conflict that can occur when a landowner's desire to preserve his or her land with a conservation easement does not correspond to the comprehensive plan adopted by the locality. This conflict speaks to the need for local governments to plan for agriculture in their communities, and not just around it. The good news is that many localities, including several in the greater Richmond metropolitan area, have begun to develop local strategies that help support and encourage the continued use of farm and forest land.
To date, 21 localities, including New Kent and Goochland counties, not only encourage and support the donation of conservation easements by landowners, but also have established local purchase-of-development-rights programs that pay landowners willing to place a conservation easement on their property. The Commonwealth of Virginia also is cooperating with these local programs to help leverage local funds. In 2007, the General Assembly appropriated $4.25 million in matching funds for the first time for this effort. Our department allocated these funds to 14 qualifying programs this year, and just two weeks ago, Gov. Timothy Kaine and Albemarle County officials celebrated the first farm preserved in part with these matching funds.
The Office of Farmland Preservation and all of us at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services stand ready to work with individual landowners and local governments interested in preserving a future for both farmland and farmers in Virginia.
Todd P. Haymore
Virginia Department of
Agriculture and Consumer Services