Land Access and Tenure Toolshed: Searching for Farmland
Part 1: Where to Look for Farmland
At the time of this writing, land for sale on the open market in Vermont is in no short supply. Local real estate agencies, local newspaper ads, local bulletins and for-sale-by-owner brochures are points of contact for identifying properties for sale. Internet-based databases are also an effective way to search for land, based on specific criteria. Agricultural publications, such as Agriview, have farmland listings as well.
Beginning farmers do have the rare opportunity to purchase land at reduced prices. The Vermont Land Trust’s (VLT) Farmland Access Program identifies land, which by virtue of being conserved, can only be resold at its agricultural use value. When these properties are for sale, VLT assists in finding a farmer-buyer, and gives preference to beginning farmers who have sound business plans and financing. Please refer to VLT’s website (www.vlt.org) or contact VLT's Land Access Program Coordinator to see if you are eligible.
The USDA Farm Services Agency occasionally lists government-owned or foreclosed farmland for sale at bargain prices. FSA gives first priority to beginning farmers to purchase these properties. Search for listings by state on the web at http://www.resales.usda.gov/ or contact your local FSA office, listed in the telephone directory or online at www.fsa.usda.gov
Your neighbors or community members might be willing to sell you some of their farmland is approached with a respectable offer.
Finally, it's important to remember that purchasing land is not the only way to acquire it! Long term leases, for example, can bestow secure tenure and similar rights to ownership, with the benefit of not requiring the tenant to pay all ownership costs. See our Leasing Farmland section for more information.
The Town Clerk's Office: A Wealth of Useful Land Information
- Zoning. While Vermont law exempts certain agricultural practices from local zoning restrictions, some towns have specific areas where land is set aside or “zoned” for uses other than agriculture. Each town in Vermont has different by-laws. The town office can confirm whether or not there are zoning laws (some towns in Vermont have none). For the most part, zoning will paint a good picture of how land is used in the surrounding areas, and might gauge how friendly an area will be towards farmers. This might aid the farmer in predicting what kinds of issues related to nuisance laws might be encountered (see fact sheet, “Land Use Regulations”).
- Current Title or Ownership. Changes in land ownership for every piece of land in a town are “listed” or recorded in publicly available records in every Vermont town. Researching these records can reveal who or what entity currently owns the property, the history of transactions or changes involving the property, its geographical delineation, and any easements that exist on the property.
- Easements. These are restrictions that were placed on the property that affect its use; they are recorded in town records, kept chronologically. It may be time consuming to sift through multiple books to search for the complete picture, but it will be worth it, considering the details that can be revealed. For example, the record of a right-of-way through the property that a power company bought 70 years ago might be the only way to determine how many feet on either side of the power line is included in the right-of-way on the property. Building farm infrastructure or planting perennials within this right-of-way might be a costly mistake!
- Taxes. Town offices keep tax maps and provide property tax rates. Taxes on properties will depend on area property values, whether or not the land has been developed (residential housing, buildings, etc), and whether it is enrolled in the state’s Use Value and Appraisal Program (See Fact sheet on “Current Use” or consult the Vermont Department of Taxes). The town clerk or lister should be able to provide assistance with pulling together these details. The State of Vermont also levies a one-time “Property Transfer Tax” on all changes in property ownership. The buyer is responsible paying the fee, which ranges from 0.5% to 1.25% of the purchase price, depending on various criteria .
Part 2: Learning about Specific Properties
- Natural Resource Atlas:
This interactive tool from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources allows you to home in on a specific property and survey features of environmental importance in the vicinity. Aerial imagery of the site, Act 250 permits issued nearby, hazardous waste sites, hydrography, storm water permit sites, threatened and endangered species, water supply source protection areas, and wetlands are included. The website also links to other geographical information and items of interest, such as the Vermont Geological Survey.
- USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service Web Soil Survey:
Another interactive website that allows you access to soils information related to your specific chosen site.Soils are classified according to a multitude of different features. For example, it is possible to identify which areas on a property have well-drained soils or soils most compatible with crop production.
- County Soil Surveys:These are print copies in book form of the Internet Web Soil Survey data (see above). The surveys contain detailed maps of every piece of land in the county, along with maps of all of soil series in a parcel. Soil surveys are generally available at public, university, or college libraries, and at various Conservation District and Natural Resource Conservation Service offices throughout the state.
- Local KnowledgeThis could be your important source of information. Local farmers and neighbors possess knowledge about a land’s history and environment that won’t be found in any office, book, or web page. Don’t be shy!
For more information
Please contact Ben Waterman at firstname.lastname@example.org or (802) 656-9142.
Publication 225. Farmer’s Tax Guide. Chapter 7, depreciation, depletion, and amortization. P37. IRS, 2009.
Last modified June 20 2013 09:45 AM