Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Environmental Studies

Department or School/College

Environmental Studies Program

Committee Chair

Neva Hassanein

Commitee Members

Jill Belsky, Len Broberg


Beginning Farmer, Land Trust, Conservation Easement, Land Access, Land Transfer Tool


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Environmental Studies | Place and Environment | Rural Sociology


This is an exciting, but precarious, time for the generational transfer of agricultural land in the US as established farmers are aging and transitioning out of farm ownership. Beginning farmers, however, the next generation of agrarians, face numerous obstacles to land access – finding and purchasing property. Two of the greatest barriers include the high price farm property commands today and the steady loss of agricultural land. Conservation easements are vital tools in the effort to protect agricultural land, and land transfer tools that enhance conservation easements stand to be crucial instruments for supporting beginning farmers’ access to land. There are two land transfer tools in particular that show great promise: conservation buyer programs and the option to purchase at agricultural value (OPAV). Existing research on these tools, though, is severely limited. I sought to address this dearth of research and set out to conduct case studies on two entities that use OPAV and two that use conservation buyer programs to evaluate whether these tools improve access to agricultural land for beginning farmers. Interviews with professionals and beginning farmers that have worked with these tools through the entities of focus informed my case studies. My research found that these tools improve access to agricultural land for beginning farmers under certain circumstances. I also found that these tools are not the only tools in use by the entities of focus, nor have these tools necessarily been more effective at addressing the land access challenge than others in use by the entities.



© Copyright 2015 Samuel E. Plotkin