Minnesota Department of Transportation

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Project development

Environmental process | Environmental review

Farmland Impacts


In 1980, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued a directive that required federal agencies to assess the effects of their proposed actions on prime or unique agricultural land. It also required this assessment to be an integral part of the Environmental Assessment (EA) process and be a factor in deciding whether or not to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). In 1981, the federal government enacted the Farmland Protection Policy Act (FFPA) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) promulgated rules (7 CFR 658) implementing the FPPA to assist states in the preservation of agricultural land. This law exists to ensure that the impacts of MnDOT projects on agricultural lands and operations are integrated into the decision-making process, and that impacts upon agricultural land are minimized to the extent reasonable. 

When to use this subject

For specific process information, see contacts and see the Farmland Impacts Process and other materials in the Guidance section.

Federal Analysis

The FPPA contains no threshold regarding acreage, therefore you must address the FPPA on any federally funded project that may convert farmland, as defined in the FPPA, to nonagricultural uses. The rules of the CEQ  must be adhered to regarding assessments of impacts to prime and unique farms on any NEPA action (i.e., Categorical Exclusion, Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement. 

The FPPA defines farmland to include prime farmlands, unique farmlands, and farmlands other than prime or unique that are of statewide or local importance.  Farmland subject to the FPPA requirements does not have to be currently in use for cropland.  Some forms of farmland may be forest land, pastureland, or other land, but not water or built-up urban land. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a web soil survey that identifies the location of prime farmlands, unique farmlands, and farmlands of statewide or local importance.

State Analysis

The State Agricultural Land Preservation and Conservation Policy (Minnesota Statute 17.80 to 17.84) , enacted in 1982, sets forth state policy on agricultural land preservation and conservation. Minnesota Statutes, Section 17.82 does not require Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) review of a project unless ten acres or more of agricultural land is to be acquired. However, the law defines land in agricultural use very broadly, such that virtually any land outside the limits of a city may be agricultural land.  If the proposed action is being reviewed under the rules of the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (MEQB) [Chapter 116D], or if a political subdivision (e.g., city or county) is required by law to review and approve the action, the law does not require a separate review by the MDA Commissioner.

Two additional laws that extend a variety of benefits to Minnesota farmers are relevant to the transportation project manager:

  • The Metropolitan Agricultural Preserves Act of 1980 (Minnesota Statutes 473H)
  •  The Agricultural Land Preservation Policy Act of 1984 (Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 40A)

These laws extend a variety of protections and benefits to farmers, principally in the areas of taxation.  In return for these benefits, the farmer must enter the land into a covenant that prohibits the use of the land for any purpose except agriculture. The covenant runs with the land. While the owner may withdraw the land from such a designation, the Metropolitan Agricultural Preserves Act sets the withdrawal time at eight years. Right of way legal opinion is that this covenant is binding on successive owners, including MnDOT. While this may be more of a right of way issue than a preliminary design issue, the project manager should be aware of the implications these laws could have for project scheduling.

The Agricultural Land Preservation Policy Act established the Minnesota Agricultural Land Preservation Program. The program applies to counties located outside of the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area and was largely modeled after the Metropolitan Agricultural Preserves Act.

How this subject fits into the overall project development process

Early environmental documents should discuss any potential agricultural impacts. Normally, more detailed information will be available later in project development when right of way limits and the exact project location are better defined.  The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and MDA will have an opportunity review and comment on the MnDOT documents for agricultural impacts. As a result, consideration of agricultural impacts should take place as early in project development as practicable. 

Organizations involved

  • MnDOT:
  • FHWA
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA NRCS)
  • Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA)
  • Local soil conservation organizations
  • Local governments