Mike Yoder, active in Indiana Professional Dairymen, Indiana Farm Bureau and a host of other organizations, recently put his money where his mouth is, so to speak. Instead of just encouraging others to place land under easements that will protect it from urban development in the future, he and his wife, Rhonda, requested and were granted a conservation easement on 70 acres of their farm. Yoder owns Crystal Valley Dairy, milking 450 cows operating 230 acres of cropland in that operation.
Yoder is a commissioner in Elkhart County, and was instrumental in getting Elkhart County to pass some of the strictest ag zoning ordinances anywhere in Indiana. Those went into effect several years ago, with the intent of setting up agricultural zones that were to be devoted to agricultural enterprises long-term, not to housing and other forms of urban development.
Wood-Land-Lakes Resource Conservation and Development group, will facilitate the easement. Yoder is a member of the Land Committee of the RC & D. What the easement does is protect development rights on the property. Under the terms of the agreement, Mike or Rhonda or whomever they might sell or release the farm to in the future can continue to use it for agriculture or conservation purposes. Wood-Land-Lakes RC&D is responsible to monitor the farm yearly to be sure that the restrictions voluntarily placed on the farm by the Yoder's are followed.
Yoder stepped forward and entered into the easement, he says, to show others how they can use various land preservation tools to protect land in their area for the next generation of farmers coming their way. Besides the 70-acre farm that Yoder and his wife just donated the development rights to, he rezoned his dairy operation as A-4 land under the Elkhart County zoning ordinance. That means he leased development right son that farm to the county through the Middlebury Ag TIF district. It was Ag TIF districts that Yoder helped create in his county a decade or so ago. These districts are similar to TIF districts often set up for industrial and business development. Yoder reasons that farming is also a business worth protecting, and has been successful in getting enough support in his area to get these ordinances approved in his county.
Wood-Land-Lakes RC&D, one of the newest RC &D groups in Indiana, have already become specialists in the land protection arena. Kathy Latz, coordinator for the group, says that the RC &D now hold easements in Allen, St. Joseph, Whitley, LaGrange, Steuben and Elkhart Counties. To learn now about the conservation easement process facilitated through the RC&D, call Latz at 260-665-3211, ext. 5, or visit: www.wood-land-lakes.org.