To help protect working agricultural lands in Maine, Juan Hernandez, state conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service , has announced that nearly $1 million will be available to successful applicants this year through the agency’s Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program.

The funds will be used to purchase conservation easements to limit conversion of farmland to non-agricultural uses.

There is a continuous, year-round sign-up for the program, but applications submitted by March 23 will be considered for funding this fiscal year. Applications submitted after March 23 will be held for fiscal year 2013 funding consideration.

NRCS is seeking proposals from local and state governments, federally-recognized tribal governments, and non-government organizations interested in working together to acquire conservation easements on farms. For those proposals selected for funding, NRCS will enter into an agreement to support efforts to protect farmland soils and historical and archaeological sites. NRCS provides up to 50 percent of the appraised fair market value of the conservation easement. All funds will be awarded to the highest ranked eligible parcels through a statewide competitive process.

Eligible entities must demonstrate a commitment to long-term conservation of agricultural lands, a capacity to acquire and manage easements, have pending offers on a farm, and available funding to match federal funds. Eligible farmland must be privately owned, subject to a pending offer, and contain at least 50 percent prime, statewide, or locally important farmland soils. In addition, the farm must include at least one-third cropland, grassland, and/or pastureland of the total acreage.

To submit an application, contact Bill Yamartino, USDA NRCS, at 990-9553 or email