Farm Loss Mitigation Ordinances


What are they?

Farm loss mitigation ordinances require developers to offset the impacts of developing farmland. These ordinances require developers to purchase easements (or pay fees in-lieu-of) to permanently protect an equivalent or greater amount of farmland than they develop.

While the practice of mitigating farmland loss is not widely used, it can be valuable as a tool for protecting specific farmland properties and as a source of funds for local farmland protection efforts. Vermont and Massachusetts have used mitigation very successfully.

How does it work?

For example by adopting a “no net loss of farmland” approach in the comprehensive plan, a farmland loss mitigation ordinance may require developers to permanently protect one acre of farmland for every acre of agricultural land they convert to other uses. Applicants for zoning changes or any other discretionary entitlement that will change the use of agricultural land to any non-agricultural use are required to provide mitigation. The protected land should include agricultural land similar to the acreage, soil capability and water use sought to be changed to non-agricultural use.

Suggested conditions before mitigation of farmland loss is considered and permitted:

  • The applicant can realize a reasonable return on the fair market value of his land only by devoting the primary agricultural soils to uses that will significantly reduce their agricultural potential.
  • There are no non-agricultural or secondary agricultural soils owned or controlled by the applicant that are reasonably suited to the purpose.
  • The subdivision or development has been planned to minimize the reduction of agricultural potential by providing for reasonable densities and the use of conservation subdivision.
  • The development or subdivision will not significantly interfere with or jeopardize the continuation of agriculture or forestry on adjoining lands or reduce their agricultural or forestry potential.

Only after all of these conditions are met should mitigation of farmland loss considered.

Graduated mitigation fees

Graduated mitigation fees not only mitigate the loss of land that is developed, but also takes into account how the land is developed. That is mitigation for the opportunity cost of developing at low density, as measured by the amount of additional farmland that will have to be developed to accommodate the same population growth. Properly structured, graduated mitigation fees would not just fully compensate for the farmland actually consumed by development, but also encourage more efficient development.

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