Geothermal/Prime or Unique Farmlands

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Geothermal Prime or Unique Farmlands

Prime or Unique Farmlands
Present, Potentially Affected

The Farmland Protection Policy Act (FPPA) is a part of the Agriculture and Food Act of 1981 (Public law 97-98) and aims to decrease impacts of nonagricultural federal programs developed on prime, unique farmlands or land of statewide or local importance that will have “irreversible conversion”. Natural Resources Conservation Service-Prime and Unique Farmlands

The differences between the four types of land categories covered under the FPPA are:

  • Prime farmland: This land must demonstrate outstanding qualities of both “physical and chemical features to sustain long-term agricultural production.” It must have soil, moisture and climate conditions to sustain a high crop yields. Irrigated crops must have occupied the land at some time in the last four years.
  • Farmland of Statewide Importance: This land is similar to prime farmlands, however, it has steeper slopes that increase runoff and the soil does not hold as much moisture. Irrigated crops must have occupied the land at some time in the last four years.
  • Unique farmland: The soil and climate features have a lower quality than prime farmlands, but still produce large crop yields. It may have greater slopes and lower ability to irrigate naturally. Irrigated crops must have occupied the land at some time in the last four years.
  • Farmland of Local Importance: The soils do not qualify for other land categories and these lands are often not irrigated or cultivated. However, the local community deems this land important to the economy as it supports fenced livestock and aquaculture. Irrigated crops must have occupied the land at some time in the last four years.

The government aids projects on prime or unique farmlands with acquiring and disposing land, property management, and technical assistance. Geothermal leasing on these lands are case by case. Factors affecting lease acquisition are impacts to the land and whether or not there are rare agricultural resources on site. Agriculture and Forest Resources Natural Resources Conservation Service-Farmland Protection Policy Act

Prime or Unique Farmlands Impacts & Mitigation

A land evaluation finds the farmland conversion impact rating score to indicate the predicted impacts. If the impact is too large, alternative sites may be suggested. Site impacts include the following:

Forestland: Converting forestland into non-forest related use results in forest loss. Prior to site selection, check the forest managing agency’s land use planning documents to understand the planned resource use of that area. Some plans will allow geothermal development, while others have already allocated resources to other uses.

Water resources: Many farmlands are equipped with irrigation and effluent runoff systems. These existing structures can both help and hinder geothermal development. Crops grow well in floodplains and need water to permeate the soil, while geothermal development requires runoff to be diverted from well pads and the power plant. Understanding the land layout prior to site selection will reveal how much runoff infrastructure is needed to mitigate excess water.

Zoning: Check the zoning laws set by the federal, state, county and city to see whether or not prime or unique farmlands exist in the area. Land buffers of .25 miles around the geothermal site are required to decrease impacts to surrounding farmlands. Topsoil will be placed stockpiled at an adjacent site until the project is complete. The soil will then be transported back on site to begin restoration efforts after the project is finished. The topsoil storage site will experience temporary impacts, while the main site will experience permanent development impacts.

Mitigation plans and options: Agriculture Conservation Easement, Agriculture In-Lieu Mitigation Fee and Public Benefit Agreement are three options for how the site developer will decrease long-term land impacts.