PERRYSBURG - Applicants will find a few differences in paperwork if they apply for enrollment in the 2011 Clean Ohio Agricultural Easement Purchase Program.
The next funding round runs Jan. 5 through April 5.
Funding is expected to be $6.25 million - the same as 2010, when 37 development easements were purchased. Farms in northwest Ohio will be competing for more than $1.5 million.
Representatives from 18 farms attended a meeting hosted by Black Swamp Conservancy of Perrysburg Monday evening to learn more about the program. Five of them were from the Tiffin area.
Black Swamp Conservancy has assisted 11 landowners in Seneca County to preserve farmland since the program started in 2002.
In addition, the conservancy has assisted with two conservation easements.
Because of previous approvals, farmers adjacent to Seneca County farms in the program have a greater chance of being accepted.
AEPP, part of the Clean Ohio package voters renewed in 2008, is designed to help landowners and communities preserve Ohio's farmland.
"(Clean Ohio) is nationally known for looking at land use comprehensively," said Kristen Jensen of the Ohio Department of Agriculture Office of Farmland Preservation. In addition to farmland, the program provides $400 million annually for cleanup of brownfields, preservation of open spaces and creation of recreational trails.
Ohio lost more than 7 million acres of farmland between 1950 and 2007.
"That's a quarter of the state that was in farmland and is no longer in agriculture," Jensen said.
She said agriculture is a $98 billion a year industry, the state's largest.
"It provides about one in every seven jobs in Ohio," she said. "At the same time, Ohio is ranked second nationally for loss of prime farmland."
When applying for AEPP funding, landowners must work through a sponsor, such as Black Swamp Conservancy, or an approved government entity, such as township trustees, county commissioners or a soil and water conservation district.
Among the requirements are a tract of at least 40 acres, or 25 acres if it is adjacent to land already in the program; participation in Current Agricultural Use Value and an agricultural district; and a minimum 25 percent donation of easement value from the landowner or sponsor.
"There is no cash down by you," Jensen said. "But the state can offer you up to 75 percent of the land's value."
AEPP is a competitive program, she said. Since the program's inception, she said her office has received 2,208 applications and only 208 have been funded. She said there have been some repeat applications.
Jensen said there is a $500,000 limit per county. Only one farm per owner can be accepted and each farm has a $500,000 payment limit.
In the tier one point system, which determines a property's ranking, criteria include soil type and proximity to other protected properties.
"This is a growing program and we do want to create viable blocks of protected land," Jensen said.
In addition, the property should be "close enough, but not too close" to developed land. It should be covered by a local land use plan and use best management practices such as conservation plans.
Applicants also must complete a more subjective tier two, which considers why a landowner wants to conserve land for farm use.
"Remember, this program is very competitive and a couple points can make a difference," said Brian Williams, a member of the committee that makes ranking decisions. "This is an opportunity to blow your own horn a little bit. If you're doing something that goes above and beyond, making your farm a showcase, tell us."
Examples might be opening a farm to school field trips or bus tours.
To see 2011 guidelines, a sample of a deed of easement, a tier one estimator, a list of local sponsors, an applicant handbook and current AEPP participants, visit www.agri.ohio.gov and follow the "farmland preservation" link.