Cultivating opportunity: Do land transfer tools improve land access for beginning farmers?

Samuel Ethan Plotkin, Neva Hassanein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


A vast amount of agricultural land in the USA will change hands in the coming years as established farmers age and transition out of farm ownership. As a result, beginning farmers are likely to continue to face numerous obstacles as they try to find and purchase the property. Two of the greatest barriers include the high price that farm property usually commands and the steady conversion of farmland to non-agricultural uses (e.g., suburban development). Non-profit organizations and government agencies have used conservation easements extensively to protect against conversion of agricultural land, but, too often, that does not ensure affordability for beginning farmers. Accordingly, advocates have developed supplemental land transfer tools intended to enhance conservation easements and help beginning farmers gain access to land. In this exploratory research, we look at two of these novel tools, namely Conservation Buyer Programs (CBPs) and the option to purchase at agricultural value (OPAV). Specifically, we present case studies about two entities that use OPAV and two that use CBPs in order to understand how these tools function and whether they improve land access for beginning farmers. Interviews with professionals and beginning farmers who have worked with these tools in four states inform our analysis and add depth to previous scholarship. We found that OPAV and CBPs can improve access to agricultural land for beginning farmers under certain circumstances. These tools, however, are not panaceas to the challenge land affordability presents, nor are they the only tools used by the entities we studied. CBPs alone have rarely been used to help new farmers; yet, they have been paired effectively with a conservation easement and OPAV. Additionally, we found a similar tool, the simultaneous sale, has been quite effective when paired with OPAV, and less costly than the traditional conservation buyer approach. All of these tools expand the land access toolbox in important ways, but given the paucity of existing scholarship on this topic, additional research is needed. Practitioners and researchers must think critically about whether these tools are the most effective instruments to employ in the effort to get beginning farmers on the land.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)271-279
Number of pages9
JournalRenewable Agriculture and Food Systems
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2019


  • Beginning farmer
  • conservation easement
  • land access
  • land transfer tools
  • land trust
  • private land conservation


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