The purpose of the Farm Viability Enhancement Program ("Program") is to improve the economic bottom line and environmental integrity of participating farms through the development and implementation of Farm Viability Plans ("Plans"). These comprehensive, yet focused farm plans, which are to be developed by teams comprised of farmers and other agricultural, economic and environmental consultants, will be aimed at suggesting ways for farmers to increase their on-farm income through such methods as improved management practices, diversification, direct marketing, value-added initiatives and agritourism. In addition, the Plans will make recommendations concerning environmental and resource conservation concerns on participating farms.
I. Application is made through a Request for Response (RFR) that contains detailed policy information about the Program.
To be eligible for participation in the Program, an applicant must own, or be a co-applicant with the owner of, at least 5 acres of land in active agricultural use and managed as a commercial enterprise by the responder for at least the three previous years.
B. Criteria for Selection
Applicants will be evaluated and selected based on the following priority criteria:
- The number of acres placed in the program.
- The suitability and productivity of the land for agricultural use based on its soil classification, physical features, and location.
- The degree of threat to the continuation of agriculture on the land due to factors such as financial stability, urban encroachment, or management changes, which may negatively impact continuing agricultural activity.
- The degree to which the project would accomplish environmental objectives, such as the protection of water resources or flood plains and preservation of historical, open space, and aesthetic amenities.
- The number of years and types of agricultural experience of applicant and/or co-applicant.
C. Application Procedure
Anyone interested in applying to the Program must submit, on a form approved by the Department, a completed application. The application will request at least the following information:
- A full description of the current agricultural activities carried out on the land including the types and quantity of the crops, number of livestock, and/or acreage leased or used by others for agricultural purposes.
- A goals statement by the applicant of how this Program could benefit the economic and environmental viability of the farm.
- A statement of the present financial situation of the farm including the gross farm income.
- A statement identifying any farm debt.
- A statement indicating if any family members receive income from employment other than farm income identified above.
- If the owner is not principally engaged in agricultural activities, a statement must be submitted by the owner regarding the short and long-term plans for keeping the property in agricultural use.
- A map of the property on a United States Geological Survey (USGS) Topographical Map showing the land area to be covered by the viability plan, and the land to be covered by a possible agricultural use covenant if different from the land covered by the plan. An aerial photograph with the farm property outlined.
- If available, a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources and Conservation Service map and farm plan, or its equivalent.
- Authorization for the Department to conduct a field inspection of the land to be covered by the Plan.
Upon receipt of an application, the Department may conduct a field inspection.
II. Application Evaluation And Approval
An advisory committee will evaluate the applications and approve them based on the above-listed criteria. Accepted applicants will be notified in writing of their acceptance into the Program. Orientation meetings are usually held to present detailed information outlining the planning process, contract process to present awards, and legal information regarding the Agricultural Covenant. Following the orientation, the Department will work with the applicant to prepare a Plan. The Plan will include a resource and economic assessment of the agricultural operation and suggestions for actions to increase the overall viability of the farm developed by a team of advisors working with the farm operator.
III. Contract and Agricultural Covenant
Any farmer who has developed a Farm Viability Enhancement Plan with the Department is eligible to participate in the next phase of the program. This phase involves an agreement between the Department and the participant(s) where the owner of the property would provide an agricultural covenant to the Department for a term of years. In exchange, the Department would provide funding through a performance contract to implement certain portions of the Plan. The Department will fund only those projects which it determines will improve the viability of the agricultural operation.
The Department may offer the participant(s) either of three funding options. The participant(s) must agree to the entire conditions of options (1), (2) or (3):
- In exchange for up to twenty five thousand dollars, the participant(s) will agree to do the following:
- Grant the Commonwealth a 5-year agricultural covenant.
- Implement designated components of the Farm Viability Plan.
- In exchange for up to fifty thousand dollars, the participant(s) will agree to do the following:
- Grant the Commonwealth a 10-year agricultural covenant.
- Implement designated portions of the Farm Viability Plan.
- In exchange for up to seventy five thousand dollars, the participant will agree to the following:
- Grant the Commonwealth a 10-year agricultural covenant on at least 135 acres of land.
- Implement designated portions of the Farm Viability Plan.
IV. Final Phase – Closeout
The contract terminates with the farmer reporting with records and receipts of the expenditures made with funds received from the Program.