The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is accepting applications for the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP), a voluntary conservation program that helps farmers and ranchers keep their land in agriculture.

Eligible entities can apply at any time, but must submit applications on or before June 1, 2009, to receive consideration for funding in fiscal year 2009.

FRPP provides funds to help purchase development rights to keep productive farmland in agricultural uses. Working through existing programs, the NRCS joins State, tribal, or local governments and non-governmental organizations to acquire conservation easements.

Only eligible entities may submit applications of eligible farm and ranch land. Eligible entities are State, tribal or local governments and non-governmental organizations that meet specific requirements. The entities must have an established farm and ranch land protection program.

The FRPP can provide up to 50 percent of the appraised fair market value of the easement on the farm or ranch. At least 50 percent of the appraised fair market value of the easement must be provided by the eligible entity.

Land proposed for funding in FRPP must meet one of three eligibility categories:

• contain at least fifty percent prime and unique farmland soils and soils of statewide and local importance

• contain historic or archeological resources

• contain land that supports the farm and ranch land protection policies of state or local programs

FRPP has enrolled over 620,000 acres on 3,100 farms and ranches since Congress first authorized the program in 1996. More information, including the application forms and ranking criteria, can be found at Texas NRCS website.