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Home > Protecting Our Lands & Waters > Farmland Protection > Minnesota's Agricultural Land Preservation Statutes

Minnesota's Agricultural Land Preservation Statutes

Metropolitan Agricultural Preserves Program (Minn. Stat. Ch. 473H)

The Metropolitan Agricultural Preserves Act of 1980 established an agricultural land protection program in the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area. This program provides a package of benefits to enable farmers near urban areas to continue farming on an equal footing with those farmers located outside the metropolitan area without pressures to sell or convert their land to other uses.  The intent of the law is to protect important agricultural land in the Twin Cities metropolitan area from competing land uses, protect the local agricultural economy and support businesses, promote orderly and planned growth and development of urban and rural land uses, and allow farmers to make long-term agricultural investments with the assurance that their land can continue in agricultural use without interference from urban pressures.  Through the Metropolitan Agricultural Preserves Act, local governments identify areas where agriculture is to be preserved, where non-farm growth will be permitted and what standards apply to each area.  Farmers receive property tax credits and additional benefits by placing a restrictive covenant on their qualifying land, limiting its use to agriculture.

The Metropolitan Agricultural Preserves statute also contains a provision that local governments may not enact ordinances or regulations that restrict or regulate normal agricultural practices within an agricultural preserve unless the restriction or regulation has a direct relationship to public health and safety.

Minnesota Agricultural Land Preservation Program (Minn. Stat. Ch. 40A)

Adopted in 1984, The Minnesota Agricultural Land Preservation Program is modeled after the Metropolitan Agricultural Preserves Act.  Any county located outside the Twin Cities metropolitan area is eligible to prepare a proposed agricultural land preservation plan and implementing regulations (official controls) under the program for the Commissioner of Agriculture’s review.  Elements that must be addressed by county plans and official controls are detailed in the statutes.  Counties adopting agricultural land preservation plans and official controls may offer agricultural preserves (an agricultural preserve is a restrictive covenant on qualifying land limiting its use to agriculture or forestry).  In return, farmers receive property tax credits, protection for normal agricultural practices, and other benefits.

State Agricultural Land Preservation and Conservation Policy (Minn. Stat. §§17.80–17.84)

Enacted in 1982, 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 adversely impacts ten acres or more of agricultural land must be reviewed by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA). Before the project can commence or the rule can be adopted, MDA must determine if other alternatives exist which would avoid converting agricultural lands.

Minnesota Agricultural Property Tax Law (the “Green Acres” Differential Property Tax Assessment Law, Minn. Stat. §273.111)

Adopted in 1967, the Minnesota Agricultural Property Tax Law, commonly known as the Green Acres Law, provides for deferment of assessment and taxes payable on farm lands whose valuations have been increased due to residential or commercial development potential. For differential/deferred assessment of agricultural land consisting of ten or more acres, property owners who are engaged in agricultural pursuits can apply for deferment of higher valuations and consequent taxes payable, including special assessments, and continue to have the property valued based upon its valuation for farm purposes.

Right-to-Farm Law (Minn. Stat. § 561.19 Nuisance liability of agricultural operations.)

Under the Right-To-Farm law 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”.

Agricultural operations include facilities and its appurtenances for the production of crops, livestock, poultry, dairy products, but not a facility primarily engaged in processing agricultural products.  An agricultural operation is not a nuisance if it is operating according to “generally accepted agricultural practices”, located in an agriculturally zoned area, and complies with the provisions of all applicable federal and state statutes and rules or any issued permits for the operation. Some animal operations are exempt from the right-to-farm law protection, such as an animal feedlot facility with a swine capacity of 1,000 or more animal units or a cattle capacity of 2,500 animals or more.

Purchase of Development Rights and Transfer of Development Rights

During the 1997 legislative session, the Minnesota Legislature adopted amendments to the planning and zoning enabling laws for counties and municipalities which authorize local adoption of provisions for “purchase of development rights” and “transfer of development rights” programs.  “Purchase of development rights” is authorized in the form of conservation easements, which are authorized under Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 84C.

A conservation easement is a voluntary and permanent transfer of specified development rights from a landowner to a public or private organization.  The easement is a restriction on a parcel of land, recorded as part of the land and deed records of the court.  A conservation easement typically prevents development of land for residential, commercial, or industrial uses, while allowing farming to continue.

Purchase of development rights (PDR) programs pay farmers to protect their land from development.  Landowners sell the development rights to a local government agency or private conservation organization. The agency or organization usually pays them the difference between the value of the land for agriculture and the value of the land for its potential use, which is generally residential or commercial development.

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.

Notice of Residential Development on Certain Agricultural Land (Minn. Stat. §394.305)

The 1997 Legislature also adopted an amendment to the county planning and zoning enabling law which requires provision of notice of a permit to construct four or more residential units on land zoned for agriculture (or agricultural land in counties without zoning) to owners of all agricultural land within 5000 feet of the perimeter of the proposed development.

MDA Contacts

Becky Balk
Land Use Program Planner
Becky.Balk@state.mn.us • 651-201-6369

Ag Marketing & Development Division