Maryland's Program for the Certification of County Agricultural Land Preservation Programs

The Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) and MALPF jointly administer the Program for the Certification of County Agricultural Land Preservation Programs (the “Certification Program”). Created by the Maryland General Assembly in 1990, the Certification Program lets counties keep more locally generated agricultural land transfer tax in exchange for creating effective local land preservation programs and continually evaluating and improving them. Program participation by interested counties is voluntary. Counties with an effective local agricultural land preservation program that wish to be certified apply to both the MDP and MALPF. Fifteen of Maryland’s twenty-three counties are either fully or conditionally certified under this Program as of January 1, 2010.

Certified counties are allowed to keep 75% of the Agricultural Transfer Tax revenue (uncertified counties retain 33% of the revenue). The increase in a county's share of Agriculture Transfer Tax helps support its agricultural land preservation program. All retained funds must be spent or encumbered for land preservation purposes within three years or the funds revert to the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Fund. Retained funds can be used to purchase land preservation easements through a local program or a State program, used in the MALPF’s Matching Funds Program, applied to service past debt accrued through land preservation activities, and/or used to help pay the administrative expenses for the county’s land preservation activities.

Certification allows counties to create a preservation program that best meets local goals and needs. In combination with easement purchases, counties use other preservation tools such as agricultural zoning, transfer of development rights (TDRs), right-to-farm policies, and the establishment of agriculture as the best use of designated land. Other important aspects of local programs include defined areas for preservation and established acreage goals. In addition to the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation program, certified counties have typically also preserved land through private land trusts, Maryland Environmental Trust (MET), the Rural Legacy Program, and the Federal Farmland Protection Program, among other organizations and programs.

Uncertified counties do not necessarily have less effective local agricultural land preservation programs, but may have chosen not to participate in the Certification Program.

Agricultural Stewardship Act of 2006

The Certification Program has recently been modified by legislation. Under the Agricultural Stewardship Act of 2006 (HB 2), effective Fiscal Year 2009 (July 2008), a county must develop a Priority Preservation Area Element and incorporate it into its comprehensive land-use plan to become or remain certified under the Certification Program. A Priority Preservation Area (PPA) is an explicitly delineated area within the county capable of supporting profitable agricultural activities, governed by local policies to stabilize the land base to limit development, and large enough to support the kind of agricultural enterprises that the county is seeking to preserve. A PPA may consist of one parcel of land, multiple contiguous parcels of land, or multiple non-contiguous parcels of land, including designated Rural Legacy Areas. The county's acreage goal within a PPA through easements and zoning must be equal to at least 80% of the remaining undeveloped areas of land in the PPA as calculated at the time of application for certification or recertification. Essentially, this is one area or more where agriculture will be the focus of long-term efforts and investment by the county to ensure its ongoing success and profitability. For certified counties or counties seeking certification, each comprehensive plan revision and/or update is/are subject to PPA certification renewal. Counties must include a Priority Preservation Area Element when applying for certification and recertification of effective county agricultural land preservation programs. Requesting recertification of a county's agricultural land preservation program is extended from every two years to every three years.

House Bill 1354 (2007)

HB 1354 (2007 Legislative Session), "Certification of County Priority Preservation Areas," modifies the requirements for PPAs to require them to be large enough for normal agricultural and forestry activities to continue. Further, the bill removes the requirement to define explicitly in the comprehensive land-use plan the kinds of agricultural industry that will be supported. Rather, the county is required as part of the certification evaluation to maintain policies, ordinances, regulations, and rules that, at minimum, do not interfere with normal agricultural and forestry activities and, preferably, support the ability of working farms to engage in normal agricultural and forestry activities. This bill takes effect on October 1, 2007, but realistically will only apply to certification and recertification requests starting in FY 2009.

Additional Information

Current Status of County Certification and Next Deadlines. (As of October 26, 2009.) All certified counties came up for recertification between January and September 2009. Three counties – Calvert, Montgomery, and Talbot – were fully recertified. Wicomico County was denied recertification. The remaining twelve counties were conditionally certified because their Priority Preservation Areas were still under development and the PPA element had yet to be adopted into the county comprehensive land-use plan. Ten counties conditionally certified under the new certification requirements will come up for review by the MALPF Board and the Maryland Department of Planning no later than June 30, 2010. Also, Wicomico and Prince George's Counties are expected to apply for certification in the near future.

Certification Program: Statutory Provisions. Maryland Annotated Code. Title 5. State Planning. Subtitle 5. Governmental Coordination, Cooperation, and Assistance in Planning. §5-408. Certification of County Agricultural Land Preservation Programs. These are the most relevant statutory provisions for the State’s Certification Program. (Last update: 2007.)

Certification Program: Regulatory Provisions. Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR). Title 14. Independent Agencies. Subtitle 24. Office of Planning. Chapter 08. Guidelines for the Certification of County Agricultural Land Preservation Programs. These are the most relevant regulatory provisions for the State’s Certification Program. (Last update: 2009.)

FY 2007 Annual Report on the Certification Program (April 2008) (Adobe Acrobat/.pdf format). The statutory reporting requirement for the Certification Program is typically met by the inclusion of the report as a chapter of the MALPF Annual Report. Because of the substantial changes in certification requirements from HB 2 (2006) and HB 1354 (2007), a standalone Annual Report for the Certification Program was issued for Fiscal Year 2007 in April 2008.