Incentives offered to landowners

Incentives offered to landowners

The Land Trust for Tennessee has announced the renewal of enhanced Federal tax benefits for landowners who choose to conserve their land through voluntary conservation easements. The enhanced tax benefits were part of the Federal Farm Bill (Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008), which was enacted after Congress overrode a presidential veto of the legislation. The landowner tax benefits will be available to landowners through 2009. “This is great news for farmers and landowners who choose to save their land for generations to come,” said Jean C. Nelson, president and executive director of The Land Trust for Tennessee. He said the incentives will be available to landowners who conserve their property through a voluntary conservation agreement, also called a conservation easement. The incentive, which applies to a landowner’s federal income tax, will: • Raise the deduction a donor can take for donating a voluntary conservation agreement from 30 percent of their income in any year to 50 percent; • Allow working farmers to deduct up to 100 percent of their income; and • Increase the number of years over which a donor can take deductions from six to 16 years. “While we are grateful to Congress for recognizing the importance of these enhanced benefits today, The Land Trust and organizations like ours across the country will continue to talk to our federal elected officials about making these incentives permanent before they expire in 2009.” The voluntary conservation agreement is a contract between a landowner and a land trust, government agency or another qualified organization in which the landowner places permanent restrictions on the future uses of some or all of their property to protect scenic, wildlife, agricultural or historic resources. Conservation agreements are specifically tailored to meet important conservation purposes and the individual needs of the landowner. The easement is donated by the owner to the land trust, which then has the authority and obligation to enforce the terms of the easement “in perpetuity.” The landowner still owns the property and can use it, sell it or leave it to heirs, but the restrictions of the easement stay with the land forever. “This is a great opportunity for The Land Trust to continue our efforts to work with individuals and families who are interested in conserving their land rather than allow it to be developed,” Nelson said. “These incentives are especially important for those family farmers with less income who want to continue their agricultural legacy on their land.” These enhanced tax incentives had been in place since mid-2006, but expired on Jan. 1, 2008. As part of the Farm Bill, the incentives will be retroactive to the first of the year for any landowner who signed a conservation agreement this year, Nelson said. He could not predict how many more landowners would sign conservation agreements this year with the renewed tax benefits. “We know, in some cases, that certain landowners chose to conserve their land at a specific time because the enhanced tax incentives were in place. Definitely, those incentives helped us reach beyond 30,000 acres of conserved land in Tennessee, but it’s impossible to predict how the renewal of the incentives will affect the number of closings we complete this year.” He added that The Land Trust staff never sets out to break records from one year to the next. “Our goal is to close on parcels of land that might be the next sprawling development target or is the first in a series of adjoining properties in an area that we identify as crucial to conserving the quality of life in that particular region of Tennessee. We look forward to continuing to work with generous families and individuals who are ready to conserve their land and define Tennessee’s natural heritage in the future.” In fiscal 2007-08, The Land Trust completed 52 separate projects, representing 14,698 acres, under voluntary conservation agreements during its fiscal year that ended on March 31. In 2006, The Land Trust closed on 16 projects, totaling 6,886 acres of conserved land, according to Nelson. Published in The Messenger 6.3.08

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