Farmland Preservation

The Farmland Preservation Program helps to ensure that farming remains viable in the state. It does this by purchasing development rights from farmers - which enables them to retain ownership of their property while protecting the lands for agricultural use. At the same time, it provides farmers with a financially competitive alternative to development.

This program is operated by the Agricultural Land Preservation Commission (ALPC), which formed in 1981 pursuant to RIGL 42-82 (Farmland Preservation Act) for the primary purpose of acquiring the development rights to farmland in Rhode Island. The ALPC is a quasi-governmental agency that works closely with the DEM.

ALPC meetings are generally held monthly, and all meeting notices and minutes are posted with the Secretary of State. Program Applications are accepted year round and are evaluated and scored at monthly meetings of the ALPC based on criteria that includes: parcel size; soil quality; agricultural operation and viability; protection of water supplies and quality; open space, cultural and scenic features; flood protection; relative development pressure; and consistency with state and local plans. Funding for this program is obtained through voter-approved bonds for farmland protection, and is leveraged with funding from USDA, local land trusts, The Nature Conservancy, and other NGOs. The list of all protected farms to date through the ALPC is available for viewing and download.

DEM's Land Acquisition Committee oversees all other real estate acquisitions, including acquisitions for parks and recreation, fish and wildlife, forest land protection, and watershed protection. Funding for these land acquisitions comes from the Open Space bond, local land trusts, The Nature Conservancy, and from various federal programs including the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Legacy program (application), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's State Wildlife Grant, and the U.S. Park Service's Land and Water Conservation Fund. The Committee also reviews and makes recommendations on Departmental Lease, Licenses, and Easements. Any surplus of DEM properties are reviewed by this Committee.

Farmland Preservation Program FAQs

The acquisition of development rights is a purchased right or easement to the property which restricts all future uses except those related to farming, with the goal of permanently protecting the best farmland and preserving a base of agricultural land for food protection and open space.

Selling Development Rights enables a landowner to keep land in agricultural use and also be compensated for the potential development value of the land. The landowner retains ownership of the land and agrees to the terms of a “Deed to Development Rights” limiting future ability to subdivide and develop the land.

The Deed to Development Rights is the legal document recorded in the land records that travels with the land upon resale, guaranteeing the state's investment in land conservation will be maintained for future generations. The ALPC holds a perpetual legal easement to the property on which development rights are acquired.

Some farmers do not plan to develop their property, and appreciate the ability to access some of the land's equity while continuing to farm. Proceeds from easement sales have been used, for example, for the payment of debts or to finance needed capital investments. Selling your development rights may offer special tax advantages for those who are planning to pass the farm onto heirs.

Another advantage of selling your development rights to the State is that the State offer is not subject to the conditions that developers frequently include in their agreements. Developer purchase offers are almost always based on numerous contingencies, such as approval of their development plan at certain densities and receipt of necessary state or local permits. It is important to understand that the State is purchasing only the development value of your farmland and that you retain the value of the land as a farm and, if applicable, a residence.

The value of the development rights is the difference between the fair market value of the property and its agricultural value, as determined through an appraisal.

Each appraiser values the land "before” the development rights restrictions and "after" the development rights restrictions are placed on the land. The difference between the two values is the appraised value of your development rights.

To fund the purchase of development rights, the ALPC uses State bond funds as approved by voters on a periodic basis, federal grants obtained by the ALPC and/or DEM, and partners with other federal, local or non-profit agencies and organizations. Nearly all projects in recent years involve a consortium of interests and funding partners.

The deed to development rights contains the following restrictions:

  • No development or subdivision
  • No storing or dumping trash
  • No excavating
  • No use other than agriculture

Interested farmers should fill out the application to determine eligibility. If accepted into the program and if funding can be secured, the DEM will handle the acquisition process: arranging for an appraisal, contracting for survey and title work on the farm, and then preparing the final Deed to Development Rights. Assistance in completing the application can be provided by the Department if needed.

The process for purchasing development rights can take many months and depends on the size and complexity of the project.

Program Contacts

Farmland Preservation

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    Ayars, Ken

    Chief, Division of Agriculture and Forest Environment Agriculture, Complete Staff, Farmland Preservation, Forest Environment, RIDEM Administrators
    Phone: 401-537-4267