The Berks County Agricultural Land Preservation Board oversees the implementation of the Berks County Agricultural Conservation Easement (ACE) Program through the staff of the Berks County Agricultural Land Preservation Office. The Berks County ACE Program is a funded largely by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the County of Berks to purchase agricultural conservation easements in perpetuity. Easements prevent the development of the lands for any other purpose other than agricultural production. Permanently preserving large clusters of farms helps ensure the future of agriculture in Berks County. Furthermore, it is the purpose of the Berks County ACE Program to:
1. Encourage landowners to make a long-term commitment to agriculture by offering them financial incentives and security of land use;
2. Protect normal farming operations in Agricultural Security Areas from incompatible non-farmland uses that may render farming impracticable;
3. Protect farming operations from complaints of public nuisance against normal farming operations;
4. Assure conservation of viable agricultural lands in order to protect the agricultural economy of this Commonwealth;
5. Provide compensation to landowners in exchange for their relinquishment of the right to develop their private property;
6. Maximize agricultural easement purchase funds and protect the investment of taxpayers in agricultural conservation easements; and
7. Encourage financial partnerships between the Federal, State, County, local governments, and non-profit entities in order to increase the funds available for agricultural conservation easement purchases.
The Berks County Planning Map identifies important farmland and has been submitted to the PA State Agricultural Land Preservation Board as part of the ACE Program. The map identifies municipalities within Berks County that have agricultural security areas, as well as identifies farmland of importance to the County Board that are designated as Agricultural Preservation.
Landowners submit applications to the Berks County Agricultural Land Preservation Office on a voluntary basis by December 31st of any given year. Applications must meet minimum criteria. Each year, beginning in January, all applications that meet the minimum criteria are numerically ranked according to the Land Evaluation and Site Assessment (LESA) ranking system. The ranking system evaluates soil quality and site assessment factors designed to evaluate development pressures, productivity of a farm, and the ability to create clusters of protected farmland. Applications are selected for the program based on the ranking order and the amount of available funding. Townships may participate along with the County and the State in the Berks County ACE Program.
Funding for the ACE Program is typically allocated on a yearly basis. The State and County compensate landowners at the settlement of the agricultural conservation easement based on appraisal values and maximum payments per acre. The easements are legal documents restricting the land to agricultural production and are recorded at the Berks County Recorder of Deeds Office. The easements remain with the farm as the property changes ownership, thereby protecting the land in perpetuity. Inspections are conducted yearly to ensure compliance with the deed of easement.
Information is available upon request or on the Web at www.co.berks.pa.us/alp. Additional information includes an application form, an information pamphlet on conservation easements, and a sample agricultural conservation deed or easement. Please contact the Berks County Agricultural Land Preservation Office at: Berks County Agricultural Center, 1238 County Welfare Road, Suite 260, Leesport, Pennsylvania, 19533 or call (610) 378-1844.