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Farmland Evaluation (13-FD-a)

Just as consideration of the protection of natural resources should be incorporated in any consultation process, stakeholders should also consider the potential impact on important agricultural lands. Specifically, the Farmland Protection Policy Act (FPPA) requires federal agencies carrying out federal programs to identify and take into account any adverse effects on farmland created by those programs. The purpose of the FPPA is to “minimize the extent to which Federal programs contribute to the unnecessary and irreversible conversion of farmland to nonagricultural uses and to assure that Federal programs are administered in a manner that, to the extent practicable, will be compatible with State, unit of local government, and private programs and policies to protect farmland.” See 7 U.S.C. 4201(b).

Adverse effects are evaluated based on criteria developed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Once the evaluation is complete, the federal agency conducting the federal program must consider alternative actions that could lessen adverse effects. The FPPA is a procedural statute, however; it does not dictate federal agency actions, and the federal agency is not required to implement the alternatives. Moreover, the FPPA does not authorize the federal government to regulate the use of private property, nor does it affect the property rights of private owners.

Regulations governing the implementation of the FPPA can be found at 7 CFR 658 et seq.

Farmland Evaluation Process

13-FD-a.1 - Will the Project Irreversibly Convert Farmland to Non-agricultural Use

If during site evaluation and consultation it becomes clear that the project will irreversibly convert farmland to non-agricultural use, mitigation measures should be considered as well as alternative sites.

Irreversible conversion is not specifically defined in the statute or the associated rule. Project planners should rely on a commonly understood definition of the term. If the proposed action is such that the land cannot be returned to agricultural use in the future without significant investment of time and/or resources, the conversion is deemed irreversible

13-FD-a.2 - Will the Project be Completed by, or with Assistance from, a Federal Agency?

Only Federal programs are subject to the FPPA, and only if they irreversibly convert farmland to nonagricultural use. Federal programs are defined by 7 CFR 658.2(c) as “those activities or responsibilities of a Federal agency that involve undertaking, financing, or assisting construction or improvement projects or acquiring, managing, or disposing of Federal lands and facilities.” Thus, only projects that are completed by or receive financial or technical assistance from a federal agency are subject to the FPPA. Activities that may be subject to the FPPA include:

  • State highway construction projects;
  • Airport expansions;
  • Electric cooperative construction projects;
  • Railroad construction projects;
  • Telephone company construction projects;
  • Reservoir and hydroelectric projects;
  • Federal agency projects that convert farmland; and
  • Other projects completed with federal assistance.

Activities that are not subject to the FPPA include:

  • Federal permitting and licensing;
  • Projects planned and completed without the assistance of a federal agency;
  • Projects on land already in urban development or used for water storage;
  • Construction for national defense purposes;
  • Construction of on-farm structures needed for farm operations;
  • Surface mining, where restoration of agricultural use is planned; and
  • Construction of new minor secondary structures such as a garage or storage shed.

13-FD-a.3 - Farmland Conversion Impact Rating (Form AD-1006)

If the project is a federal program, as defined by 7 CFR 658.2(c), and if there is potential for irreversible conversion of farmland, then the necessary form must be completed. The following steps should be taken by the federal agency in submitting the form:

  1. Federal agencies involved in proposed projects that may convert farmland, as defined in the FPPA, to nonagricultural uses, or their designated representative, will initially complete Parts I and III of the form.
  2. The federal agency or designated representative will submit a copy of the AD-1006 or NRCS-CPA-106 form (as appropriate) to the state-level NRCS (formerly SCS) contact (noted on the FPPA web page) along with appropriate map(s) indicating the location of the site. Electronic submission of information is acceptable and ArcMap ™ compatible shapefiles of site locations are preferred for easy of processing. The federal agency or designated representative should keep a copy of all materials submitted for its files.
  3. NRCS will, within 10 working days after receipt of the required information (completed form and location information) make a determination as to whether the site(s) of the proposed project contains prime, unique, statewide or local important farmland. If additional time is required, NRCS will notify the requesting agency. If NRCS fails to complete the evaluation within 30 working days and further delay would interfere with construction activities, the requesting agency is allowed to proceed. # NRCS will complete Parts II, IV, and V of the form, in cases where farmland will be converted.
  4. NRCS will complete Parts II, IV, and V of the form, in cases where farmland will be converted.
  5. NRCS will return a copy of the completed forms to the federal agency involved in the project or their designated representative. NRCS will keep one copy for its files.
  6. The federal agency involved in the proposed project will complete Parts VI and VII of the form.
  7. The federal agency involved in the proposed project will make a determination as to whether the proposed conversion is consistent with the FPPA and the agency's internal policies.
  8. Once the federal agency has made a final decision on the project, the federal agency should submit a copy of the required form to the NRCS field office. The form should indicate the final decision of the agency.

For Corridor Type Projects, use Form NRCS-CPA-106.

13-FD-a.4 - Establish Farmland Conversion Impact Rating Score

There are two components to establishing a farmland conversion impact rating score: Land Evaluation (LE) which is developed by NRCS and documented by NRCS in Part IV and Part V of the AD-1006 form; and the Site Assessment (SA) which is developed by the requesting agency or their representative for the specific site or sites of the proposed activity using the evaluation criteria found in 7 CFR 658.5(b). This is then documented in Part VI and Part VII of the AD-1006 form. For specific corridor-type assessment criteria, see 7 CFR 658.5(c). Additional instructions for completed Part VI are found in the FPPA Manual.

Taken together, this process is often referred to as a Land Evaluation and Site Assessment (LESA) system. LESA helps decision-makers determine the quality of land for agricultural uses and assess sites or land areas for their agricultural economic potential. In addition, LESA can be used by state and local planners, landholders, developers, and government officials to make land-use decisions.

The LESA system can help units of government meet two overall objectives:

  1. Facilitate identification and protection of important agricultural land.
  2. Assist in implementing farmland protection policies.

See the NRCS LESA Handbook for more detailed information.

13-FD-a.5 to 13-FD-a.6 - Impacts Exceed Recommended Allowable Level?; Consider Alternative Sites

For site specific projects, section 523.3 of NRCS’ Farmland Protection Policy Act Manual states that alternatives need not be considered if the total LESA point value (“Total Points” in Part VII of the AD-1006 and NRCS-CPA-106 form) is below 160. If the LESA point value is between 160 and 220, at least two other alternatives should be considered and the one with the lowest point value should be selected unless there are other overriding considerations. If the alternative with the lowest point value is not selected, the federal agency should document why another alternative was selected and explain the overriding considerations. If the LESA point value is over 220, three alternatives should be considered instead of two. If the federal agency chooses an alternative, the developer must comply with that choice or lose the federal funding or assistance.

13-FD-a.7 - Proceed with Project

If the project is not a federal program (as defined by the 7 CFR 658.2(c)), will not irreversibly convert farmland, or has a LESA point value of under 160, no alternatives need to be considered and the developer may proceed with the project.

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