AoR 121: Addie Candib, What are Agricultural Land Trusts For?

Should we keep the farm? Can we afford to keep farming and ranching? How do conservation easements work? How much could an easement help? What do I have to give up? Food production is important (No Farms, No Food, No Future), but it has to pay enough to support a family in order to persist. Addie Candib is American Farmland Trust's Northwest director and is an advocate for local and regional land trusts. She walks through the legal and financial mechanisms involved in putting all or part of a ranch into a conservation easement and how that can benefit family businesses that are asset-rich and cash-poor. If that describes your operation, this episode is for you.




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>> Tip Hudson: Welcome to The Art of Range, a podcast focused on range lands and the people who manage them. I'm your host Tip Hudson, Range and Livestock Specialist with Washington State University Extension. The goal of this podcast is education and conservation through conversation. Find us online at

>> Tip Hudson: Welcome back to The Art of Range. My guest today on the podcast is Edi Candib, the Pacific Northwest Director for American Farmland Trust. Edi he was on the podcast before with Dylan Stewart visiting about his book, I think that was episode 108. But I felt like there was a lot of unexplored territory left there since we were mostly focused on the book. And I can't remember whether I mentioned to you, Edi, that I had a few listeners who said that they wanted to hear more from you in the work of American Farmland Trust. The book is great, but we want to know more about ag land trust and Edi. So I'm thrilled to have her back by popular demand. Edi, welcome.

>> Edi Candib: Thank you for having me.

>> Tip Hudson: As I mentioned, before we started I couldn't decide whether it was more helpful to have you do some self-introduction first, or the talk about the purpose of land trust, and then come back to your background. But I've been told that it's sometimes hard for listeners to take in what a person is saying until they have some context for the person they're listening to. So let's talk about your past. And then we'll weave that into the work of land trusts. How did you -- this is a somewhat -- I feel like our range and livestock related work is a little bit niche anyway. But there's only so many people in the country who are the Director for Regional Land Trust, that number is pretty small. How did you get to be doing that?

>> Edi Candib: Well I will try to keep this brief. But I've been working sort of with one foot in the nonprofit space on one foot, in the sustainable agriculture space for over a decade now. I came into farming because I had been doing conservation work. I worked for the Conservation Corps and then the National Park Service. And during the Recession in 2008-2009, I had both started to get really interested in local food. Like many folks, I had read the books that folks were reading, Michael Pollan, and Barbara Kingsolver. And I was getting really interested in local food. And then with the Recession, I lost my job. And I said to my partner at the time, well what better time than now to go try working on a farm. And we went, and we apprenticed for a small scale, diversified vegetable farm on Whidbey Island. And I never looked back. You know, in that context, I found both the opportunity to be outdoors and work with my hands and feel connection to a landscape. But also connection to this incredible community of people who really cared about their work and cared about their food and their health and their bodies and the health of the community and the landscape that they're part of. So I really found my sort of intellectual home, in the world of sustainable ag. And as we moved on from that apprenticeship and started farming on our own, ironically, I started working in nonprofits to support my farming habit. It's pretty hard to make a living on a, you know, we had a 15 member CFA at one point. So we weren't making a living or paying the bills and growing vegetables, but we were having a really good time. And I ended up going back to school to get my Master's in Public Administration. And I was working for the time, this is around 2014-2015, I was working for a very small agricultural land trust down in the Olympia Washington area, which was focused on, not just protecting farmland, but also keeping it affordable in the long term for farmers. So that's really their vision is that farmers should be able to afford to own their -- I'm sorry, be able to afford to farm and not have to work a farm jobs in order to do what they love. So really, it was there that I discovered a passion for farmland protection and I knew that it's work that I wanted to stay involved in and come back to, even as I moved on from that organization. And when the opportunity came around about four years ago to join American Farmland Trust, it really felt like the perfect opportunity. It was my dream job, and still is to get to work on some of these issues that I think are some of the most important and most pressing in terms of conservation, but also in terms of farm viability. And really helping the next generation of farmers to, to be able to do what they love and to be able to succeed.

>> Tip Hudson: No, that's interesting. I also think there's maybe an unusual connection there. And maybe I'm just not seeing it. But I tend to associate conservation easements more with big agriculture. Partly because oftentimes, the money that pays for easements is looking for places where there's habitat, and that may just be because I'm have -- a little bit more experienced with conservation trusts that are focused on habitat rather than preserving farmland. But, you know, interestingly, there's some cultural antagonism between big ag and small sustainable agriculture, in that, you know, the big farms tend to think that all that sustainable organic foofy stuff is a bunch of hogwash, and they're not serious farmers. And then the small scale folks tend to think that again, this is a caricature that the large ones are just raping the land. And at least in the world of ranching, which again I'm more familiar with, it tends to be larger operations that are entertaining conservation easements. Because they're often in a position -- a landscape position where their land has significant habitat value in terms of continuity or keeping a contiguous block. Yeah, what's the -- do you have any response to that? I feel like I don't very often see conservation easements associated with smaller scale agriculture. And I'm wondering if that's just my own ignorance?

>> Edi Candib: That' s a great question. And just to back up a minute and respond to what you said a minute ago around being more familiar with conservation easements being used to protect wildlife habitat or ecological value. That is certainly the origin of how conservation easements for use. And for your listeners who may be less familiar with conservation easement and what it is, I'll just say briefly that, in very basic terms, a conservation easement is a restriction on the deed to the -- to a piece of property. It is a flexible document. These are -- they are not -- across the board they are not the same. So a conservation easement is going to vary property by property depending on lots of different things. But in its most basic sense, the conservation easement limits nonfarm development on the farm or the ranch, it prevents subdivision and it prevents other uses that might be incompatible with agriculture. The goal of an easement is to protect the agricultural value and other natural resources on a farm or a ranch. And it runs with the land, which means that the easement applies to, not just the current owner, but any future owners of the property. That's the sort of basic explanation of what an easement is. Another way to explain it, a metaphor that folks often use, or you might hear, is to think about the -- about property rights as a bundle of sticks. And each one of those sticks is a different right that travels with the property. So water rights might be one stick in that bundle, and mineral rights is another stick in that bundle. And the right to develop that property is another stick in that bundle. And what happens when you sell a conservation easement is you take some of the sticks out of that bundle and you sell it to a land trust or sometimes a public conservation easement purchase program. We have a number of those here in Washington. And you can donate those rights or those sticks, but you can also sell them and be compensated in terms -- in cash for the value of the right to develop. Just like you can sell mineral rights or you can sell water rights. In some cases, you can also sell the right to develop the land. So that's really what we're talking about when we're talking about an easement. So that said --

>> Tip Hudson: Yeah.

>> Edi Candib: Historically, you're absolutely right, that conservation easements were used to prevent development on property that had important habitat or other ecological value. And in the late '70s or early '80s, typical land trusts were not using conservation easements to protect farmland. And that is why American Farmland Trust was formed at the time. And Don Stewart does a much better job of telling the history. But in a nutshell, Peggy Rockefeller got really worked up about the loss of farmland in her community and set about trying to create what she, at the time, called the Nature Conservancy for Agriculture. She wanted to build or create a land trust that would use the tools of a land trust to protect ag land. So when American Farmland Trust was formed, we were the only land trust that was using the tools of the trade to apply to farmland. And of course, now we're one of hundreds, if not thousands of land trusts around the country, who are doing this really important work.

>> Tip Hudson: Yeah, I think that's a -- I sort of had the impression but wouldn't have previously put words to it that agricultural land trusts are sort of a second wave conservation effort. And I feel like part of where that comes from is that there has been the impression, probably more from outside of agriculture, that farming is a lucrative business. And therefore farmers don't need help to be -- to preserve farmland. You know, and that that term preservation is a term that we usually reserve for things like nature reserves. And that as long as it was economically viable, you know, there is a self-interest, there's some economic force behind keeping farms in farmland. But of course, when you're starting to get -- when you get into the history of farming and individual farming families, what you usually find is that there's very often a lot of voices who are -- people who are official advisors, say to a farming family business, saying, you can't make it, you should sell it. And in fact, we heard that oh a couple of years ago, with the Siebin Livestock Company, out of -- near Helena, Montana. You know, it was a situation where the guy that was running the place died in a plane crash, and the lawyers, financial advisors, everybody told the brothers, don't keep it, your best bet is to cut the losses by selling it. And they made the decision to keep it. They also are in a conservation easement at this point. But back to my point, I think there is this -- there has been the impression that farming could survive on its own and we didn't need help. I think there's also a bit of, you know, some lingering feeling that was common in America at least a hundred years ago, that it's a large continent, and our natural resources, including farmland, are inexhaustible. And that we could afford to not be that careful with them. And I -- we're past that point now. But of course, these things get institutionalized. And so there's still a fair bit of reticence there. I think to entertain some of these legal mechanisms that are meant to literally preserve farmland like it's a thing that needs to be protected instead of, you know, having a self-existence, because it's economically viable.

>> Edi Candib: Yeah. I think you're absolutely right. And in addition to the themes or pressures that you mentioned, the other one I would add is that historically there's been a lot of antagonism between agricultural communities and environmental advocates. And I think in the '80s, when AFT was formed, there was a pretty pervasive attitude in environmental organizations about farming was bad for the environment. And I think we now have several decades of really strong and successful collaboration between environmental organizations and farming communities. I think we know that farmers can be some of the best stewards of the environment. They know the land use intimately. And I think we see that in particular in ranching communities where ranchers are stewarding these vast swaths of land that can be incredibly rich and diverse. So I think AFT and our partners in the farmland and some protection base, have done a lot to build that bridge, and make it less of sort of a cognitive leap to think that we might need and want to protect our farmland, that it is an important resource. And that you can grow food on a piece of property while maintaining its inherent ecological value. I wanted to go back, you know, you had asked a question a minute ago about seeing conservation easements on smaller pieces of land.

>> Tip Hudson: Yeah.

>> Edi Candib: And I wanted to come back to that question, if that's OK.

>> Tip Hudson: Yeah, go ahead.

>> Edi Candib: So I sit on the Review Committee for Washington State, through our Recreation and Conservation Office has a program called the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program. And this is a funding program that supports a number of different things. One of the things that it supports is conservation easements on agricultural land. And I sit on the review committee for that pot of funding. This year, I believe, that fund was allocated about $11 million to distribute to land trusts and public easement programs around the state. And one of the things that is really exciting about being on that committee and also incredibly challenging is that we do see applications from all over the state. And we might see an application for an easement on a 15 acre diversified vegetable farm on the Olympic Peninsula. And then the next application that we read is for a 2,000 acre ranch in the Okanagan. And trying to discern and prioritize where to allocate public funding and which type of farming is more important, is -- it's an impossible task really, because they're all important projects. So I, you know, I think -- I wanted to give voice to the fact that I think we do now see conservation easements being applied across a diverse spectrum of agriculture and parcel size. There is a reason why we see fewer easements on very small parcels, you know, like two and five and ten acres, only because it's very time consuming for a land trust to go through the process of applying for funding to purchase the easement. And it can sometimes be anywhere from a two year to an eight year process, depending on the funding source, and working with the farmer, the rancher, and their family. So it's a massive investment of time and resources on part of the land trust. And because of that, I think there's a tendency for land trusts to invest in protecting parcels that may be larger, or may have more impact on the landscape. So unusual to see very small parcels protected, but I think here on the west side of the Cascades, it's not unusual to see easements on parcels that are 20, 30, 40,50 acres. Over on the east side, we're more likely to see conservation easements in the hundreds or thousands of acres.

>> Tip Hudson: No, that's good to hear. That is -- it sounds like that reflects this shift from only attempting to conserve and pay for conservation on lands that are -- that have -- that are large landscapes that have significant habitat value to those that represent imperiled arable ground.

>> Edi Candib: Yes.

>> Tip Hudson: That's a whole different kind of thing.

>> Edi Candib: Yeah.

>> Tip Hudson: Yeah. I wanted to respond too to your comment earlier about, sort of, I would -- I guess I would say, more old school environmentalism that says that farming is bad for the environment. I've began repeating Berry [inaudible]' adage that grazing is a verb, not a noun. That if we don't like the results of grazing, the result to that -- or the response to that is not to stop grazing but to graze differently. And it sounds like you were saying, sort of in a like manner, the solution to environmental problems. associated with farming isn't to stop farming, it's to farm differently so that we don't have the environmental problems. And --

>> Edi Candib: Right.

>> Tip Hudson: That can be a long path. And, you know, the barriers to that can be a variety of things. It could be personality, it could sometimes be money where people feel like they're locked into a certain style of farming, that they feel like guarantees at least enough income to, you know, pay back the operating loan. But that gets at what I think is oftentimes the biggest issue with land trust, and that's succession. You know, it's often said that God's not making more land, dirt recirculates, but the amount of farmable land area in the world is not increasing, at least in range lands, the conversion of range land to other uses is often, you know, from an extensive land use, like grazing to a more intensive form of agriculture, like crop land. But maybe nearly equally often, to something like a ranchette, you know, a small acreage, rural property that's too small to farm, but big enough to be a real ecological problem when it's managed poorly. And people can fill in the blank with whatever that number of acres is in their own location. You know, and a lot of -- well every culture has had to deal with this. And, of course, most of them before modern America saw this problem, this intergenerational transfer problem and had mechanisms to deal with it. You know, a lot of times, the entire property will be handed down to a firstborn child or a firstborn son. Because you can only split in half and then split in half and then split in thirds and then split in quarters so many times before you don't have any farmland left, at least not of any viable size. And it's intuitively obvious that farmland is no longer economically viable, if it's split up between the heirs of every generational transition. And that transition is often what precipitates a conversation about land trusts. And it's -- and I think you've already alluded to it. It's both things . It's, you know, do we attempt to keep this piece of farm ground intact? And it's also how are we going to afford to keep this intact, because it's an expensive habit in many cases. That's probably a -- that might be a conversation that'd be worth talking about another time as well, in terms of the general profitability of agriculture. But I think you've already gotten to this. The impulse to direct housing development and to limit loss of farmland still seems to me to be a pretty useful objective of conservation easements in the work of land trusts. But I definitely have not spent much time in that world. You've alluded to it, but what would you say is the purpose of American Farmland Trust specifically? Because there's, as you've mentioned, there's a variety of kinds of land trusts out there.

>> Edi Candib: Right. And American Farmland Trust is a little different than many other land trusts, in that we are a land trust, yes, but we are also many other things. So the land trust work is a small slice of the programming that we do. We started out as a land trust. And that was sort of our core focus in those early years. But I think our founders quickly realized that they could have more impact by getting engaged in federal policy. So our early staff and board members were very heavily involved in developing the conservation title in the Farm Bill, developing the federal programs that now fund conservation easements. And because of that trajectory, going from just being a land trust to being an important player in federal policy decision making, we have also grown in a lot of other ways. We continue to be involved in the Federal Farm Bill advocacy. And our mission has expanded -- so our mission is to save the land that sustains us by protecting farmland, promoting sound farming practices, and keeping farmers on the land. And that's a big tent. So we talked about the protecting farmland piece. The promoting sound farming practices, these days, we're talking a lot about climate smart agriculture. And we are trying to support farmers in adopting soil health practices and adopting other practices that can help to sequester carbon and reduce carbon emissions. And then the third piece is that keeping farmers on the land in some ways, that's the biggest and most complicated bucket. Because what fits in there includes land access, it includes the succession and transfer issues that you're talking about. But it also includes farm viability, the business aspect of it. How do we keep farms economically viable? So we're doing a lot and what we do or how we do it tends to vary in region by region. We have eight regional programs, and I, of course, represent our Pacific Northwest program. So, you know, I think for most -- most land trusts are working, you know, there are some exceptions, there are some other large national land trusts like the Nature Conservancy. But most land trusts are working on more of a focus, local or a regional scale. And we're very fortunate here in Washington to have an incredible tapestry of local and regional land trusts. And most of them, I would say, the majority of their work is focused on land protection and stewardship. And they might have a little bit of other programming on the side.

>> Tip Hudson: One of the questions that I wasn't sure when we would get to or if we would get to it, but this is kind of queued it up. I am personally curious, how does American Farmland Trust, you know, relate to or work around or work with these other local land trusts? And to what extent, I really have no idea, to what extent is there competition, you know, say for a property, and maybe an FAQ from landowners, should I shop around for a land trust?

>> Edi Candib: Yeah, great question. Our policy is that we intentionally don't want to be perceived as competing with local land trusts. And by and large, we don't do land protection work in communities where there is an active land trust, unless we have been explicitly invited by the local land trust to get involved or to partner on a project. We hold, here in the Pacific Northwest, we hold about 3,000 acres under easement. Most of those are very early easements that were granted to AFT in the '80s and '90s. And they all happen to be in Oregon. So we really aren't doing active land protection work here in Washington and Oregon, or Idaho, in part, you know,. And it's not to say that there aren't gaps, because I know that there are communities in their region that feel like they are not being served by a land trust. So it's not to say that every community is fully being served. But the -- it's not so much that there's competition for projects, but there is competition for funding. I mentioned that Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program funding, you know, that is a competitive pool that land trust have to apply to every two years. And we preferred not to be in competition with the local land trusts. And, you know, and I said we manage about 70,000 acres around the country. And historically that was more, but over time, we have actually passed off a number of easements to more local land trusts who are in a better position to do the ongoing stewardship work. So I would say that we try to partner as closely as we can. We work very closely with the Washington Association of Land Trusts. And as far as our advocacy work goes, we partner to try to advocate for more funding for farmland protection and other programs that are going to support land trusts. We try to be a resource for land trusts who are trying to get more involved in farmland protection work where they haven't been before. So we do partner, we work very closely, we try to be a supporter and a champion wherever possible, and at least here in the northwest we try not to compete.

>> Tip Hudson: Yeah, that fits my very informal uneducated, from the outside looking in, impression of what American Farmland Trust has done, i.e., being an advocate for the work of land trusts in general. What should somebody be -- say I'm a farmer in Ellensburg and I've got a -- I have an offer for a solar installation on my -- on a quarter section of, you know, prime farm ground. And I'm interested in seeing what other options are there out there. Where -- how would you recommend going about, you know, (1) looking for a land trust that might be able to offer a conservation easement, and (2) how would you -- what are some features of either the -- either the relationship with the land trust or the terms of a conservation easement that I should be thinking about in comparing one to another, assuming that there's more than one option where I live?

>> Edi Candib: Sure. Great question. And since you brought up solar.

>> Tip Hudson: I did.

>> Edi Candib: Just happen to mention that light topic of solar energy on farmland. I'll say briefly, this is a -- it's an issue that is of real interest to us. And we are, by no stretch are we opposed to solar development, we absolutely think that solar is key to decarbonizing. That said, we are concerned about the conversion of farmland to solar and the impacts that that will have on farming communities. One of the things that we have done in the last couple of years, is we published a guidebook that we called the Solar Leasing for Agricultural Landowners in the Pacific Northwest. So if this landowner in Ellensburg has been approached by a solar developer and offered a lease, the first thing I would do is say check out our guidebook and walk through it step by step. What that guidebook does is it really tries to be a decision making tool to help landowners understand, not just the opportunities, like the financial opportunities that come with a solar lease, but also the challenges and the opportunity costs that come along with a solar lease. It's -- the guide is really intending to be a neutral resource. We're not trying to tell anyone which direction they should or shouldn't go. What we want is for them to have all of the information and if they are going to go ahead with a solar lease that they do that eyes wide open. So I will send you a link to the guidebook so that you can share that with your listeners as well. But that would be the first thing I would say, is read the guidebook.

>> Tip Hudson: That'd be wonderful.

>> Edi Candib: As far -- yeah, as far as looking into a conservation easement, another resource I'll share is that AFT hosts something that we call the Farmland Information Center, or the FIC. And you can find it online at And it's a -- really a clearinghouse of resources about farmland protection. And you can do a couple of things on there as a landowner. You can read a lot about what conservation easements are, how they work, whether you might want to consider one or not. But then you can also look for land trusts that are active in your geography. So it's a great place --

>> Tip Hudson: Excellent.

>> Edi Candib: To get started with information and to sort of get connected with a land trust. The other thing that I would say as far as, you know, this is -- it is a long term relationship. And I mentioned this earlier, that the conservation easement travels with the land. And it's an ongoing relationship with the land trust as well, because as holders of that easement, they are going to do probably an annual stewardship visit out to see the property and make sure that the terms of the agreement are being adhered to. So I think that, you know, that relationship piece needs to be a fit, it needs to feel comfortable. The landowner needs to feel like they can trust the land trust staff, that they communicate well, that they communicate clearly, they communicate in a timely way. So I think it's the same things that you would be looking for in any kind of long term partnership. If you were hiring a builder to build you a house you would want them to be a good communicator and show up on time when they said they were going to show up and all those sorts of things. So --

>> Tip Hudson: Well this a bigger deal because you have an annual --

>> Edi Candib: Yeah.

>> Tip Hudson: At least an annual interaction with that builder for the life of the house.

>> Edi Candib: Yep. Yep, exactly. So it is, you know, in some ways, it's like a builder, but it's also like a life partner.

>> Tip Hudson: Right.

>> Edi Candib: And, you know, I think other things to consider, you know, there's -- there are a couple of myths out there around what conservation easements are or are not. And one of them myths that commonly circulate is that once a landowner places an easement on the property, that they will no longer control what can or cannot happen on that property. Or that they will be told how they can or cannot farm or ranch. And that's not the case. Thesa -- conservation easements are really -- should be crafted in order to meet the needs of the landowner or the farmer or the rancher. And the landowner needs to be thinking ahead and, you know, trying to design the easement to be as flexible as possible to accommodate for what the future might look like. And a great example of that is thinking about future housing on the property. So let's say you have a property that has five remaining development rights on it. And that means that you could still, as per for local zoning, you could still build five more houses on it. Now you could use an -- a conservation easement to extinguish all of those development rights. So no more houses could be built there. But a landowner might say, you know, I really want to preserve the ability, you know, my one child really wants to come back and farm here, and I want to preserve the ability for them to build a house. So we're going to set aside a section of the land over on this side of the property where they might -- and we're going to preserve one development right, so that they can build a house someday. And that will extinguish the rest of the development rights. So there's really an ability to think through and I think that it's an opportunity in sort of the succession conversation, to be working with the family members to say, what do we want this to look like? What do we -- how do we want to set ourselves up for success? What do we want to eliminate? What do we want to protect? And ideally, the conservation easement can really honor that long term vision and help to support that long term vision to be actualized.

>> Tip Hudson: I have a question related to that. To what extent are the terms of the easement related to the source of the money? And here again, I'm betraying my ignorance about where a land trust comes up with money. But I am aware that, you know, there can be a variety of sources for who's providing the money that flows through the land trust that pays the farmer to extinguish that portion of their property rights. Yeah, so I'll repeat that just in case it was missed. To what extent are the easement terms related to where the money's coming from behind the easement?

>> Edi Candib: That's a really smart question. There is definitely a connection there. Whether -- and I would say, the main sources of funding for a conservation easement, a landowner can donate the easement, in which case they're not being paid for it at all. And that's going to be sort of the most flexible, because there's no restriction. Other sources of funding can be federal through the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program or ECEP. Here in Washington, we have the -- we have a couple of programs at the state level that fund the easement. And then some counties also fund the conservation easements through something called Conservation Future. And I can talk more about that if you're interested. I think generally, the -- these pace -- public programs have tried to align their easements so that they are more or less similar. Because often land trusts are trying to match funding sources together. The NRCS program I mentioned, they only pay 50% of the costs. The WWRP state program I mentioned, only pays 50% of the cost. So a land trust is typically trying to pair two programs together. So there's not wide variation in the terms of that -- these easements require. But the easements do have limitations. So for instance, and I'll bring it back to solar, because I think this is relevant. Most public easement programs that I'm aware of essentially say, if you cannot use this funding to put an easement on land that is being used for utility scale energy generation. So your landowner in Ellensburg, who is considering leasing a quarter of their acreage for a solar development, they need to understand that that land cannot be put into a conservation easement using public dollars, while that solar installation is in place.

>> Tip Hudson: Got it.

>> Edi Candib: And similarly, that easement would also say, you know, once we put this easement in place, you can't build a utility scale solar installation. You --

>> Tip Hudson: Right.

>> Edi Candib: If you want to put some solar on your farm to help offset your energy costs, that's one thing. But you -- we're not going to let you lease this for large scale wind, or solar.

>> Tip Hudson: Yeah. Well I think the other big selling point, at least for farmers and ranchers, to entertain a conservation easement is money. You said earlier that non-farm income is often important for the viability of small farms. You know, but agricultural economists would say that even on giant farms they're often marginally economically viable, even though, I would say, what they're doing is pretty important. You know, as the American Farmland Trust bumper sticker says, if we don't have any farms, we don't have any food, at least none that we're not importing. So this is still a pretty big deal. So in my work with ranchers, and less so with farmers, I would say that, you know, a little bit of off farm income can make a pretty big difference in whether or not people feel like the farmer is viable. And that translates into morale and interpersonal relationships and how people treat each other. You know, not to mention whether or not the place is making money or at least not losing money. And this is still a little bit of a black box to me, again, I'm showing my ignorance. But how does the money work in a conservation easement? And maybe this is something where, you know, there's not a whole lot of difference between land trusts in that, if the basis for a payment is an appraisal, there are standards that govern how to conduct appraisals. And theoretically, three appraisers would come up with pretty similar numbers. But I'm jumping ahead of the question. How -- yeah, how does the money work in a conservation easement? Because this can be -- this might be, you know, the sticking point, or the thing that makes it or breaks it?

>> Edi Candib: Right. And I think you're absolutely correct here, that the money is key. And it's a key reason why landowners might engage in the conservation easement in the first place. And it's an important way, you know, back to the succession question. It's a keyway that easements can help to support a transition to the next generation by infusing the operation with a big chunk of cash. And that cash can either be invested back into the property in the form of infrastructure, or it could be used by the older generation to retire comfortably so that they don't need to sell the land. And I think this is, you know, one of the things that we see over and over again, is that land -- farmland owners have not set aside funds for retirement, that their retirement plan is all tied up in their land. And so when we think about how we help them retire comfortably and securely, we have to think through. well, how -- is there a way to do that that doesn't involve essentially liquidating the farm. And that's where the conservation easement can help to play a role. Now the way that the money works is -- you're absolutely right. To value the conservation easement an appraisal has to be done and that's a requirement of most of the public funding programs, all of the public funding programs require an easement I believe. Or I'm sorry, an appraisal. And that appraisal is, you know, typically depending on lots of different factors, the location, the size of the property, the number of development rights on that property, development pressure in that area. You know the easement values going to typically come in, you know, around like 40% to 60% of the market value of the property. Sometimes it's going to be more, sometimes it's going to be less, depending on the certain conditions of the easement. Like the -- if the easement is more or less restrictive, it can -- the value can be higher. So let's say that you have, for simple math, you have a property that's valued at $1 million. And the value of the easement is valued at 500,000. The Land Trust would apply to a very, you know, various programs to access that $500,000 in grant funding, and that $500,000 would be paid to the landowner at the same time that the easement gets signed. And then the landowner would have that $500,000 in cash. That's a very simplified way to describe it. But that's more or less what happens.

>> Tip Hudson: And forgive me if I just missed it. But what is the duration of that easement? I feel like at one point, there was some conversation, and I might be thinking of stuff that I heard 20 years ago, that that number is different, if it's a 30 year easement versus something that's in perpetuity.

>> Edi Candib: Most easements are perpetual, so they are designed to last forever. Now they're, I think, perpetual is scary, talking about forever is scary. And it's a reason why some landowners might say, I'm not -- you know, I can't tie up this land forever. So there are some conversations happening, and there are, like some conservation organize -- organizations that are playing around with what they call term easements, where a landowner is being compensated for protecting their land for, you know, 15 years or 30 years.

>> Tip Hudson: Yeah, interesting.

>> Edi Candib: I would say it's controversial in the conservation community. I think there are some folks who see it as a really valid tool to, you know, kind of put a temporary hold in places where development pressure is very intense. Our work in the Boise Metro Area in Idaho, people have started to bring up the question of term easements a lot. Because it feels like, Boise is just under tremendous pressure right now. And they say, you know, if we can just put a temporary hold and slow things down for a little bit, maybe we can get through this moment that we're in. So you know, some people look at it as a really valuable tool. I think there are others in the conservation space who see a lot of issues with term easements and find them problematic. So that's not something that I have a ton of experience with. I don't think it's been being done super widely. But it's out there as a conversation.

>> Tip Hudson: You mentioned you had several myths to address. I don't -- I've got another question that might be one of the myths, but I'm not sure. You know, one question that I think people often ask is, do I have to have a photogenic property to be considered for an easement, you know, along the front range of the Rockies or on the east slope of the Cascades or, you know, in some place, that is a pretty spot with a large acreage? And I know you've said that that's not exactly the review criteria for a Farmland Trust. And you mentioned some of the things that a review panel would be looking at. What are some of the things that -- maybe just to restate some of the primary things that would be -- some primary factors in, you know, (1) whether a person should be looking for an easement and (2) you know, what would -- or maybe the reverse, you know, what, sorry I'm fumbling here. What factors would lead a part -- would lead a review panel to say this is not likely something that we would fund?

>> Edi Candib: That's a little hard to answer, because --

>> Tip Hudson: Right its --

>> Edi Candib: It's going to depend --

>> Tip Hudson: Right context specific.

>> Edi Candib: It's going to depend on -- content specific. It's going to depend on the funder, different kinds of funders want different kinds of things.

>> Tip Hudson: Sure.

>> Edi Candib: I think the bigger, or the question that's sort of more relevant for a landowner is, what are the things that are going to make a land trust want to take the project on. And you asked me a while back about whether landowners should shop around to different land trusts. And I think it's an important question. And I do get calls from landowners who maybe they've reached -- Because typically, if someone reaches out to me first about engaging in a conservation easement, I'm going to give them some high level information. And then I'm going to refer them to their local land trust. That's typically how we work. But I do occasionally get calls from landowners who have already engaged their local land trust, and they don't like the answer that they've gotten. And so they're coming to me. And my answer is usually, well if you're local land trust isn't going to take it on, we're probably not going to take it on for all of the same reasons. And the, you know, the reasons why a land trust might not take a project on, you know, number one, it might be capacity. They might already have too many projects in their pipeline, and these are usually small organizations --

>> Tip Hudson: Right.

>> Edi Candib: With one or two staff doing conservation easement work. And the farmland protection is probably just a piece of their portfolio. So maybe they're doing a couple of farmland projects per year. So they might say, yes, we're interested, but we can't get to this for a year or two. They might say, no, because the property is too small. They might say, no, because it doesn't have any development rights remaining on it. So the easements not likely to be valued a lot. Other reasons. Let's see. I think some land trusts are more interested in doing farmland projects where there is also significant -- they have a top benefit, like a farm that has a big riparian area traveling through it, and is home to some [inaudible] species or, you know, other key indicator species. So you know, someone who just has a big piece of flat farm ground without a lot of kind of ecological interest, some land trusts might say, let's sort of outside of our wheelhouse. I think there are probably other reasons that aren't coming to mind right now. But to your question about, does it need to be like a picture perfect, beautiful, photogenic farm or ranch in order to be eligible? Absolutely not. But, you know, from my perspective, we're doing this work because we want to protect farmland that is productive, so that we can continue to grow food. And that farmland needs to look like farmland. And some farmland is incredibly topographically diverse and complex and sort of dynamic, and some of it is not, and it's all productive and it's all important. Tip Hudson: Yeah. No that all adds up. I do want to come back to the, whether or not we've gotten through all of your myths yet. But I -- that made me think of one other question. You know, these are big questions for a family business, assuming that there's more than one person involved in the decision. And because that conversation, you know, has to do with both death and taxes, it's not a fun conversation for families to engage in. I've worked with a colleague here in Washington state doing some succession planning workshops using the ties to the land curriculum. And most people say that the most useful aspect of that was forcing people to sit down and talk about it. And in fact, I've had several farmers say that, you know, the estate attorney that they paid $300 an hour really to just -- most of what they were paying for it was somebody who was facilitating an unpleasant family conversation, and that that money was well worth it. How -- t what extent do people usually come to a land trust after they've had that conversation, or does somebody usually say, yeah, here's a possibility, we should consider this. And then that forces the conversation. And do you have any advice or, you know, motivation for families that don't want to talk about this? I grew up in the South and it definitely is part of the culture there where you don't talk about it. And when grandpa dies, then we'll all find out what was in his Will. That tends to be not an uncommon situation.

>> Edi Candib: It's so hard. It's -- and I have not personally been through a family farm succession planning conversation. But I have been through planning conversations with my own parents about the end of their lives and their assets. And I have a young son and it took my partner and I four years to finally sit down and put in place a plan for what would happen to our son if something were to happen to us. It took us four years to do that. In part, because there's some difficult conversations you have to make them that, just like you say, they bring up conversations about your mortality is awful, as a parent to think about what's going to happen to my kid if I were to die --

>> Tip Hudson: Yeah.

>> Edi Candib: And we around to take care of them. But I just think what motivated us to finally get over that hump was thinking how awful is it going to be if something happens to us and there is no plan? Who's going to take care of him then? And I think it's, and to me, that lesson applies in the succession planning scenario. Folks have invested, in some cases, generations, a lifetime into a piece of land and the business of working and stewarding that land. And if they don't plan for what happens, there's a solid chance that that will fall --

>> Tip Hudson: Yeah something's going to happen to you, if you don't --

>> Edi Candib: That they're --

>> Tip Hudson: Make some decisions about what that's going to be.

>> Edi Candib: And there's no question that --

>> Tip Hudson: Yeah.

>> Edi Candib: We're all going to die, we're all going to die, that is a one certainty that --

>> Tip Hudson: Yeah, that's still 100% --

>> Edi Candib: We address. So exactly. So why not be intentional, having poured all of your life and all of your energy and your love into your land, don't you think, you know -- And there's so much pain and discomfort involved in farming and ranching? Isn't it -- I don't have to tell you, it's not an easy business. So don't you think it's worth just a little bit more pain and discomfort to have the conversation that's going to get you to a clear plan about who's going to steward the land after you can't do it anymore. It's -- it feels like a really small price to pay to get to some clarity and certainty and then knowledge that you're going to have a legacy that can move on.

>> Tip Hudson: And we always think that there will be tomorrow to worry about it.

>> Edi Candib: Right.

>> Tip Hudson: Exactly.

>> Edi Candib: Until there's not.

>> Tip Hudson: Well do you have more myths? The first one was one that I believe, so you're onto something, and we should maybe address the rest of them.

>> Edi Candib: Yeah, let's see. I think one of the myths that's out there is that once a conservation easement is placed on a piece of land, that that land is removed from county tax rolls. So it diminishes the income in that county. And the fact is that, once a property has an easement on it, it remains in private ownership. It is not a public piece of land, it remains in ownership by the private individual or family. And so that owner continues to pay property taxes --

>> Tip Hudson: Right.

>> Edi Candib: To the county. So that's sort of the second myth. We -- I touched on this with the first one around this idea that if you have an easement, you lose control over the piece of property. And I think in a sort of addendum to that one is some folks think that if they do an easement that they have to let the public onto their land. And -- or that the easement's going to require public -- year round public access or something.

>> Tip Hudson: Like a public easement where people think --

>> Edi Candib: Exactly.

>> Tip Hudson: There's a road or a power line or something that does allow at least utility access.

>> Edi Candib: Right. And that's not the case. Certainly easements are crafted that allow for public access. Or there might be a provision in the easement that says that the landowner might allow public access on one day per year. You know, there -- I can think of, down in the South Sound in Washington, where there -- we have that native prairie and there are certain prairie species that only live on those working lands. You know, the land trust might say, we want to craft an easement where we have the right to come onto the property during the time of year when there are these butterflies. And, you know, we'll do that in partnership with the landowner. But again, that's where the easements are really flexible document, and you can craft an easement that has no provision for public access. So it's not a requirement. And let's see, I think I'm just looking at my list here. I think the last one I would say is that some folks think that once land has an easement on it, that it can't be sold or passed on to other members of the family. And that's not the case. It remains in private ownership. It has some restrictions on it, yes, but that land can be sold with those restrictions on it, either to someone outside of the family or it can be, you know, passed on or inherited to other members of the family. So the conservation easement is not a barrier to that property being transitioned, just as any other piece of property would be.

>> Tip Hudson: Yeah, that's related to something that I have heard is a concern from landowners. And the concern could work both directions. The question is, how does an easement affect the resale value, which is something different than the property value, even though they're related. And I've heard that in many cases, a conservation easement can make, particularly a ranch of property more attractive, depending on who the buyer is. Because there's some -- and there's a trajectory there that is valuing conservation. I don't know that I've got any more to say about that. Except that that is a stated concern from some people about -- people who know that -- who already know that, that is a myth that they can sell the land. But that they're concerned about when they do want to sell the land, now it will be worth less. And, you know, the obvious knee jerk reaction to that was, well yeah you already got paid for that part of it. But what's your response to that?

>> Edi Candib: So you're absolutely right, that within the sort of, I would say, first generation of the easement, so you put that easement on the property. And the first time that it sells to a new buyer, whether that's a family member or someone else, it will typically reduce the resale value of the property. And often, you know, that's -- it's happening at the same time, what we call a simultaneous sale. Where the land is being sold and the easement is being sold at the same time. So let's go back to that, you know, $1 million property example. The landowner's getting $500,000 for the easement, and they're getting $500,000 for the fee interest in the property. And to, you know, between those two components, they're made whole. Now an -- a subject of, I would say much debate in the land trust community is, how effective are easements in keeping farmland affordable over the long term? So after that first sale, you know, a second generation buyer on that land -- on an eased property, are they actually purchasing a property that is more affordable? And I think currently, the answer is, it depends. You're absolutely right, that in some cases a property that has a conservation easement might be really appealing to a buyer who wants a big estate home, and they don't want any neighbors around them. And they just want to look out the windows and see wildlife. So they might be willing to pay top dollar for a property that can't be subdivided. And I think that's where, on some level, our traditional methods for valuing lands are they are limited. And we sort of operate in a system that, right, you know, for better or for worse, we try to distill down the value of a piece of property into these very concrete things. But sometimes buyers are willing to pay a lot of money for something that on "paper" isn't valuable. And that's where the math gets a little bit murky. So yeah, it's something that land trusts are talking about a lot.

>> Tip Hudson: Yeah, because even in farmland, I mean with ranch land it's even a bigger deal. But I suppose in -- with large farmland properties as well, the new buyer may not -- is very likely not looking at the property in terms of its, you know, future profit potential. It's -- it may be an investment mechanism or, you know, a variety of things that have nothing to do with annual farming revenue.

>> Edi Candid: Right.

>> Tip Hudson: Well we're about at time. But what am I -- what else am I not asking that people should know about?

>> Edi Candib: I think it's a -- well there's probably a lot. But I think that conservation easements are an important tool. I think that families should be sitting down and having these conversations and saying, what do we want for the future of this land? How do we protect our legacy? What are the tools in the toolbox? And conservation easements are one of them, but you can also have a successful farm transition without a conservation easement. It's not a prerequisite, right. So I think it's worth exploring and doing the due diligence. And I think folks should have patience. Because it is a long process. I think where people get discouraged is when, you know, maybe they haven't wanted to do the planning, and they haven't had the conversation. And then they're at a point where, let's say mom or dad gets sick, passes away, all of a sudden, you know, everyone wants to put the land up for sale, and there's one person who says, no, let's keep it in the family. You know, and point it's typically too late to, you know, because of the sort of process of working with a land trust can take so long, it's not a great tool for land that is either already on the market, or immediately at risk of going on the market. We have other resources in Washington to address that situation that I'd be happy to talk about some other time. But I think the big thing I would stress here is, if folks feel like a conservation easement might be appropriate for them, to start that conversation, or really way before they feel like they're ready. Because it tends to take such a long time to get it done in the way that people want to get it.

>> Tip Hudson: Right. No that's a good word. And I really am thrilled that there's a location, or a website, you mentioned for information on farmland protection, and people can walk through some considerations to see if this might be a good fit for them. As well as the Solar Leasing Guidebook that we will link to both of those things in the show notes for this episode. Yeah, I've got a few notes on things that it might be worthwhile talking about later. But --

>> Edi Candib: Thanks.

>> Tip Hudson: We'll probably have to wait till later to talk about those. So Edi Candib, thank you very much again for your time. And I think this will be a tremendously helpful episode for some people.

>> Edi Candib: Thank you so much. This has been just so much fun. I really appreciate the conversation and I look forward to doing it again sometime.

>> Tip Hudson: Thank you. Thank you for listening to the Art of Range podcast. You can subscribe to and review the show through iTunes or your favorite podcasting app, so you never miss an episode. Just search for Art of Range. If you have questions or comments for us to address in a future episode, send an email to For articles and links to resources mentioned in the podcast, please see the show notes at Listener feedback is important to the success of our mission, empowering range line managers. Please take a moment to fill out a brief survey at This podcast is produced by Connors Communications in the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. The project is supported by the University of Arizona and funded by the Western Center for Risk Management Education through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

>> Male Speaker: The views thoughts and opinions expressed by guests of this podcast are their own and does not imply Washington State University's endorsement.

Mentioned Resources

American Farmland Trust recently published a clearinghouse website for information on farm and ranchland conservation at

AFT also has published a step-by-step guide for landowners considering a solar farm. 

And check out the American Farmland Trust home page. 

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