A set of laws and programs at the state and local level are available to protect Minnesota’s farmland. Contact your city, county or township to find out which programs apply to your area.
State Agricultural Land Preservation and Conservation Policy
The Minnesota Legislature has committed to preserve agricultural land and conserve its long-term use for the production of food and other agricultural products. Any state or state-funded project or rule that negatively impacts ten or more acres of agricultural land must be reviewed by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) unless it is already subject to the state environmental review process. Before the project can begin or the rule can be adopted, the MDA must determine if other alternatives exist which would avoid converting agricultural lands.
Local Comprehensive Planning and Zoning
Counties, townships, and cities have the authority to designate land for long-term agricultural use, and to create zoning regulations to limit development (such as housing, commercial, or industrial) that is incompatible with farming operations.
Agricultural Land Preservation Programs
Ag land preservation programs conserve agricultural land, protect soil and water resources, and encourage orderly development of rural and urban land uses. Participating local governments identify long-term agricultural lands and establish protective zoning. Landowners can enroll qualifying land in agricultural preserves. These restrictive covenants limit land use to agriculture or forestry for a minimum of eight years. In return, landowners receive property tax credits, protection for standard agricultural practices, and other benefits.
We have two types of agricultural land preservation programs in Minnesota:
- Metropolitan Agricultural Preserves Program (Minnesota Statutes Chapter 473H) – includes the seven county Twin Cities metro area. Landowners can contact their city, county, or township for information about how to enroll. Local governments that have questions should contact their Metropolitan Council Sector Representative.
- Minnesota Agricultural Land Preservation Program (Minnesota Statutes Chapter 40A) – for counties outside the Twin Cities metro area. Currently, Winona, Waseca, and Wright Counties participate. Landowners interested in enrolling within these counties, please contact the planning and zoning office in your county. Counties interested in learning more about the program, contact the MDA at 651-201-6369.
Tax Relief: Minnesota’s Green Acres Program
The Green Acres Program reduces property taxes 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. For more information contact the county assessor’s office.
Minnesota’s Right-to-Farm law protects farms and ranches from most public and private nuisance actions, as long as they operate using generally accepted agricultural practices and have been in business for two or more years.
Some counties and townships also have right-to-farm protections that talk about the importance of agriculture to the local economy and inform potential rural residents about the noise, odors, dust, etc. that can result from common farming operations.
Purchase of Development Rights (PDR)/Agricultural Conservation Easement (ACE) Programs
PDR and ACE programs restrict development while allowing farming to continue. Agricultural landowners voluntarily agree to limit development of their land under an agricultural conservation easement, in exchange for payment. The easements are typically held by a local government, and payment represents some or all 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. In 2002, Dakota County was the first Minnesota county to establish a PDR program, called the Farmland and Natural Areas Program.
Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) Programs
TDR programs can protect farmland by shifting development from agricultural areas to areas planned for growth. They 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”). Talk to your county to see if it has a TDR program.