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An agricultural conservation easement is a voluntary, legally recorded deed restriction that is placed on a specific property used for agricultural production. The goal of an agricultural conservation easement is to maintain agricultural land in active production by removing the development pressures from the land. Such an easement prohibits practices that would damage or interfere with the agricultural use of the land. Because the easement is a restriction on the deed of the property, the easement remains in effect even when the land changes ownership.
Agricultural conservation easements are created specifically to support agriculture and prevent development on the subject parcels. While other benefits may accrue because the land is not developed (scenic and habitat values, for example), the primary use of the land is agricultural.
Agricultural conservation easements are held by land trusts or local governments, which are responsible for ensuring that the terms of the easement are upheld. The easement may be donated to the easement holder, purchased (if the easement holder can obtain funding), or a combination of the two. Each agricultural conservation easement is negotiated between the landowner, the easement holder, and any funding sources.
An increasing number of California cities and counties have adopted agricultural conservation easement programs to help mitigate the impact of farmland conversion to non-farm uses, particularly urban development. These programs typically require the proponent of a project that would result in urban development of farm land to purchase agricultural conservation easements on other land that result in the permanent preservation of that land for agricultural production.