Agricultural Preservation State Policies

State Policy

Illinois has a number of state policies in place to support agricultural preservation. The state has adopted or enabled local governments to adopt policies such as agricultural district areas, conservation easements, right-to-farm laws, and purchase of development rights. A major break for farmers is the land use assessment procedure that values the land based on its soil productivity index, rather than land market value (ILGA, Property Tax Code). Other legislation requires the state to minimize its own conversion of prime farmland (both directly and indirectly), secure funding for agricultural research, and mandate notification to local Soil and Water Conservation Districts if any municipality is planning to rezone or subdivide agricultural land.

Important State Legislative Policies

Among all of Illinois' initiatives to preserve agricultural land, there are five key policies that have been exceptional in their effort to assist preservation.
  1. State Farmland Assessment- provides farmland to be assessed based on its soil quality which is gauged by a complicated process conducted by the University of Illinois, the Illinois Department of Agriculture, and the Illinois Department of Revenue. This allows farmland to be assessed by its agricultural value as opposed to market value and causes taxes to be less cumbersome for struggling farmers (American Farmland Trust Research Center).
  2. Protection of Farming Operations-when nonfarm uses encroach upon agricultural areas, there is a threat of nuisance suits against farmers. This policy protects farmers from suits like these (American Farmland Trust Research Center).
  3. Illinois Farmland Preservation Act- required state agencies to prepare and implement policies on farmland preservation. State Agencies must provide notice of projects that will convert farmland for non-agricultural use to the Illinois Department of Agriculture for review and comment (Illinois Department of Agriculture/Laws).
  4. Illinois Soil and Water Conservation District Act requires that anyone seeking to rezone or subdivide agricultural land to notify the county's Soil and Water Conservation District. This provides for a stronger awareness on the county and state level as to the rate of agricultural land being converted to other uses (American Farmland Research Center).
  5. Illinois Food, Farms, and Job Act was created to support a state and local organic food system that will increase local organic food production. The Task Force formed under this act will submit a full plan in September 2008 that will identify land preservation and acquisition opportunities, farmer training and development, financial incentives and technical support to expand farmers markets, develop strategies, and research best practices all in support of further developing food, farms, and employment opportunities. (Illinois General Assembly).

State Legislation "In the Making"

As of mid-2008, there were three pending bills in the Illinois legislature regarding agricultural preservation in either the House or Senate. At the time of the posting of this report, all of these bills have been referred to the Rules Committee.

Illinois Senate Bill 1992 (2008)
An amendment to county code passed allows a county with over 1,000,000 residents to levy an annual tax no greater than 0.05% of the equalized assessed value of taxable property in the county for farmland preservation purchase of easement purposes if approved by referendum.

Illinois House Bill 4774 (2008)
An amendment to the county and Illinois municipal codes which allows county boards and corporate authorities of municipalities, for the purpose of preserving agricultural land, to purchase or accept donations of development rights.

Illinois House Bill 4462 (2008)
Provides that Kane County specifically may levy an annual tax of no greater than .05% of the equalized assessed value of taxable property in the county for farmland preservation purchase of easement purposes if approved by referendum.

Under the Farmland Preservation Act (FPA), local agencies have to notify the State of requests for conversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. Local municipalities must be FPA compliant. The State then conducts an agricultural impact study to determine whether or not this project is harmful to the environment. In this capacity, the State plays an advisory role. The goal is to try to minimize agricultural land conversion. Typically the municipalities notify IEPA (Illinois Environmental Protection Agency) directly and then IEPA, the regulatory authority, notifies the State. On average there are up to 1,000 requests per year for conversion to non-agricultural development all over the State. However, only an estimated 30% of farmland conversion is a result of state agency action, recommendations or approvals. The State doesn't review privately funded projects (Source: Steve Chard, IL Dept of Agriculture).