A set of laws and programs at the state and local level are available to protect Minnesota’s farmland.
It is the state’s policy to preserve agricultural land and conserve its long-term use for the production of food and other agricultural products. This law sets forth state policy on agricultural land preservation and conservation. The law also requires that, unless a project is already subject to the state environmental review process, any state or state-funded project or rule that negatively impacts ten acres or more of agricultural land must be reviewed by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA). Before the project can begin or the rule can be adopted, MDA must determine if other alternatives exist which would avoid converting agricultural lands.
Counties, townships, and cities have the authority to designate land for long-term agricultural use, and to establish zoning regulations to limit development (such as housing, commercial, or industrial) that is incompatible with farming operations.
The Minnesota Agricultural Land Preservation Program (Minnesota Statutes Chapter 40A), created for Greater Minnesota counties, is intended to help local governments preserve agricultural land, protect soil and water resources, and encourage orderly development of rural and urban land uses. Any county located outside the Twin Cities that desires to achieve these goals is eligible to participate in the program.
The Metropolitan Agricultural Preserve Program (Minnesota Statutes Chapter 473H) provides a package of benefits to enable farmers within the seven county metropolitan area to continue farming on an equal footing with farmers located outside the metropolitan area, with fewer pressures to sell or convert their land to other uses.
The Green Acres Program provides property tax relief for owners of agricultural property in areas where the market value of land is affected by development pressure, sales of recreational land, or other nonagricultural factors. Farmland preservation is not a stated purpose of the law, but tax relief is recognized nationally as a tool to help protect farmland. For details, see the Minnesota Department of Revenue’s Green Acres fact sheet (PDF).
Under the Right-To-Farm law (Minnesota Statutes § 561.19, Nuisance liability of agricultural operations) an agricultural operation cannot be considered a nuisance if it has been in operation for two years. A nuisance is defined as “anything which is injurious to health, or indecent of offensive to the senses, or an obstruction to the free use of property, so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property...” The Right-To-Farm law protects from most public and private nuisance actions “agricultural operations” that have operated in substantially the same way for two or more years and that continue to operate according to “generally accepted agricultural practices.”
Local right-to-farm protections include policy statements about the local importance of agriculture to economy and education of potential rural residents about the noise, odor, dust, etc. that can result from normal farming operations. According to the 2014 Minnesota Association of Planning and Zoning Administrators Office Survey Summary (PDF), seven counties reported adopting a right-to-farm ordinance and nine counties reported requiring right-to-farm notifications for non-farm developments in agriculture zoning districts.
Purchase of Development Rights (PDR)/Agricultural Conservation Easements (ACEs). In a PDR or ACE program, agricultural landowners voluntarily agree to limit development of their land in exchange for payment. The agreement takes the form of an “agricultural conservation easement,” which restricts development while allowing farming to continue. The easement is typically held by a local government. Payment typically represents all or a portion of the value of the “development rights” (i.e., the value of the land for its potential use, which is generally residential or commercial development) held by the landowner. Dakota County was the first Minnesota county with a PDR program, establishing its Farmland and Natural Areas Program in 2002.
Transfer of development rights (TDR) programs allow landowners to transfer the right to develop one parcel of land (referred to as the “sending area”) to a different parcel of land (referred to as the “receiving area”). The sending and receiving areas are generally established through local zoning ordinances. TDR programs can protect farmland by shifting development from agricultural areas to areas planned for growth. According to the 2014 Minnesota Association of Planning and Zoning Administrators Office Survey Summary (PDF), fifteen counties reported that they utilize transfer development rights.
Becky Balk, Land Use Program Manager
Ag Marketing &Development Division