"Protecting our Rural Environment"

Agricultural Easements Key Tool for Preserving Farmlands

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy uses private contributions and federal support to help farmers maintain ownership of their property in exchange for agreeing to restrict the lands’ future uses to farming or sustainable forestry. These permanent deed restrictions, called agricultural easements, provide an effective way to help families keep their farms in operation while also ensuring that the land is permanently conserved.

“Protecting agricultural land is a continuing priority for the Conservancy. Our work helps protect the environment while keeping working farms in agricultural production,” said Mike Kuzemchak, WPC’s Laurel Highlands program director.

The Snyder farm in the Ligonier
Valley was protected in 2008
with an agricultural easement
facilitated by WPC.
Courtesy of WCALP.
The Snyder farm in the Ligonier Valley was protected in 2008 with an agricultural easement facilitated by WPC.
Courtesy of WCALP.

The agricultural easements reflect a growing trend in the Laurel Highlands and nationwide, as more private landowners learn about the effectiveness of conservation easements of various types in safeguarding cherished family lands.

In 2011, two Ligonier Valley farms totaling nearly 185 acres were placed under agricultural easements with the support of WPC and community partners. In total, WPC has helped six landowners in the Ligonier Valley to obtain agricultural easements on their properties, conserving more than 850 acres of farmland.

Community partners like the Westmoreland County Agricultural Lands Preservation (WCALP) provide ongoing stewardship of the easements once they are completed. The Conservancy protected its first property with WCALP in 1994 with support from the Loyalhanna Watershed Association and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

“We value the partnership that has grown with WPC, through which we can protect our agricultural lands at a greater pace than might otherwise have been possible,” said Betty Reefer, county administrator of WCALP.

WPC has also established a collaborative agreement with the Somerset County Farmland Preservation Board to help advance farmland protection in that part of the Laurel Highlands.

Support from the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP) provided funds in 2009 to keep a 179-acre farm in Ligonier Borough in Westmoreland County in agricultural production. FRPP is a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, which is funded through the federal farm bill. The farm is operated by brothers Ray, Jack and Larry Kinsey and is one of the region’s few remaining maple sugaring operations in Western Pennsylvania.

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy welcomes inquiries from landowners interested in learning more about easements. Information can be obtained by contacting WPC by phone at 412-288-2777 or