Applications for the Farmland Preservation Program are accepted by the Mercer County Agricultural Development Board on an on-going basis. Applicants must meet minimum County criteria of being a farm targeted through the County Planning Incentive Grant program, with 25 acres of land (unless adjacent to an existing or proposed preserved farm), and farmland assessed. In addition, the State Agricultural Development Committee (SADC) has statewide minimum criteria (e.g. the quality of soils and tillable land) that would also apply. The MCADB would then evaluate, score and rank the applications. Applicants are then notified if they have been selected to be advanced to the SADC for funding consideration.
If the SADC grants preliminary approval of the application, the County will hire two appraisers to determine the agricultural easement value of the land. These two appraisals are forwarded to the SADC for "Certification of Market Value" after which the County can make an offer to the landowner (but no greater than the higher of the two appraisal values).
Once the applicant has accepted the County offer or made an acceptable counter offer for the sale of their development rights, the County enters into a contract with the landowner contingent upon final CADB and SADC approvals. The County will then proceed with hiring of title insurance company and surveyor, and preparation of closing documents. The County absorbs the cost of the appraisals, title insurance and surveying fees. Applicants are responsible for their own attorney fees. Title insurance and surveying generally take six to nine months to complete. Closing can take place after survey and title works are completed and the SADC has given its final approval of all CADB documents. The entire process takes approximately 18-24 months but the schedule may vary depending upon the circumstances surrounding any one farm.
The Mercer County Open Space Plan has designated public access along certain stream corridors within Mercer County. In accordance with this plan, any applicant owning a farm that has a stream corridor will be asked to either sell a public access easement to the County, or sell in fee land for a public access along the stream. The public will not have access to the preserved farm. The County will make provisions for the farm to have continued access to any water supply that is used for agricultural purposes, such as irrigation. For more details contact the Mercer County Planning Department.