Title 7

SECTION 1468.22

1468.22 Establishing priorities, ranking considerations, and project selection.

§ 1468.22 Establishing priorities, ranking considerations, and project selection.

(a) NRCS will use national and State criteria to rank and select eligible parcels for funding. The national ranking criteria will comprise at least half of the ranking score. The State criteria will be developed by NRCS on a State-by-State basis, with input from the State technical committee. The weighting of ranking criteria, including adjustments to account for geographic differences, will be developed to maximize the benefit of the Federal investment under the program. Parcels are ranked and selected for funding at the State level.

(b) The national ranking criteria are -

(1) Percent of prime, unique, and other important farmland soils in the parcel to be protected;

(2) Percent of cropland, rangeland, grassland, historic grassland, pastureland, or nonindustrial private forest land in the parcel to be protected;

(3) Ratio of the total acres of land in the parcel to be protected to average farm size in the county according to the most recent USDA Census of Agriculture;

(4) Decrease in the percentage of acreage of farm and ranch land in the county in which the parcel is located between the last two USDA Censuses of Agriculture;

(5) Percent population growth in the county as documented by the United States Census;

(6) Population density (population per square mile) as documented by the most recent United States Census;

(7) Existence of a farm or ranch succession plan or similar plan established to address agricultural viability for future generations;

(8) Proximity of the parcel to other protected land, such as military installations; land owned in fee title by the United States or an Indian Tribe, State or local government, or by a nongovernmental organization whose purpose is to protect agricultural use and related conservation values; or land that is already subject to an easement or deed restriction that limits the conversion of the land to nonagricultural use or protects grazing uses and related conservation values;

(9) Proximity of the parcel to other agricultural operations and agricultural infrastructure;

(10) Maximizing the protection of contiguous or proximal acres devoted to agricultural use;

(11) Whether the land is currently enrolled in CRP in a contract that is set to expire within 1 year and is grassland that would benefit from protection under a long-term easement or is land under a CRP contract that is in transition to a covered farmer or rancher pursuant to 16 U.S.C. 3835(f);

(12) Decrease in the percentage of acreage of permanent grassland, pasture, and rangeland, other than cropland and woodland pasture, in the county in which the parcel is located between the last two USDA Censuses of Agriculture;

(13) Percent of the fair market value of the agricultural land easement that is the eligible entity's own cash resources for payment of easement compensation to the landowner and comes from sources other than the landowner; and

(14) Other criteria as determined by NRCS.

(c) State or local criteria as determined by NRCS, with advice of the State technical committee, may only include -

(1) The location of a parcel in an area zoned for agricultural use;

(2) The eligible entity's performance in managing and enforcing easements. Performance must be measured by the efficiency by which easement transactions are completed or percentage of parcels that have been monitored annually and the percentage of monitoring results that have been reported annually;

(3) Multifunctional benefits of farm and ranch land protection including -

(i) Social, economic, historic, and archaeological benefits;

(ii) Enhancing carbon sequestration;

(iii) Improving climate change resiliency;

(iv) At-risk species protection;

(v) Reducing nutrient runoff and improving water quality;

(vi) Other related conservation benefits.

(4) Geographic regions where the enrollment of particular lands may help achieve national, State, and regional agricultural or conservation goals and objectives, or enhance existing government or private conservation projects;

(5) Diversity of natural resources to be protected or improved;

(6) Score in the land evaluation and site assessment system as identified in 7 CFR part 658 or equivalent measure for grassland enrollments, to serve as a measure of agricultural viability (access to markets and infrastructure);

(7) Measures that will be used to maintain or increase agricultural viability, such as succession plans, agricultural land easement plans, or entity deed terms that specifically address long-term agricultural viability; and

(8) Other criteria determined by NRCS that will account for geographic differences provided such criteria allow for the selection of parcels that will achieve ACEP-ALE purposes and continue to maximize the benefit of the Federal investment under the program.

(d) If NRCS determines that the purchase of two or more agricultural land easements are comparable in achieving program goals, NRCS will not assign a higher priority to any one of these agricultural land easements solely on the basis of lesser cost to the program.

(e) NRCS will rank all eligible parcels that have been submitted prior to an application cut-off date in accordance with the national and State ranking criteria before selecting parcels for funding.

(f) Eligible parcels selected for funding by NRCS will be identified in an agreement executed by NRCS and an eligible entity, either as part of the ALE-agreement or through a supplemental arrangement as agreed to by the parties.

(g) Pursuant to the terms of the ALE-agreement, eligible parcels may be selected for funding in a fiscal year subsequent to the fiscal year in which the parties entered into an ALE-agreement.

[85 FR 571, Jan. 6, 2020, as amended at 86 FR 8130, Feb. 4, 2021]