The Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase program was developed in 1988 to help slow the loss of prime farmland to non-agricultural uses. The program was created through state legislation, Act 149 of 1988, which amended Act 43 of 1981. Act 43, last updated in 2006, enables the state and participating counties to protect farmland by purchasing agricultural conservation easements on eligible properties. The first easements were purchased in 1989.
Fifty-seven participating county programs receive state funds for the purchase of agricultural conservation easements. Counties participating in the program have appointed agricultural land preservation boards with a state board created to oversee this program. The state board is responsible for distribution of state funds, approval and monitoring of county programs and specific easement purchases.
Farm owners apply to the county program. Farm applications are ranked and then forwarded to the state board for approval after offers have been made. Since July 2013, more than 478,000 acres have been permanently protected. Pennsylvania leads the nation in farmland preservation.