You may have read a few weeks ago that St. Joseph College near Rennselaer was gifted 7,600 acres. There was a catch however. The property could never be sold. However, the college can use the money generated by the land each year as it chooses. And the college also will receive income from what's soon-to-be a bevy of 32 operating windmills on the property.
Here's the rest of the story. The land will remain farmland forever because it has now officially been placed in a conservation easement. The easement is held by the Wood-Land-Lakes RC & D in northeast Indiana. Although the property does not fall in the Wood-Land-lakes area, this RC & D's conservation easement committee is the only land trust in Indiana dedicated solely to protection of productive farms and farmland.
The committee is chaired by Mike Yoder, Middlebury, a dairyman and active Indiana ag leader. He recently noted that by accepting the easement, his committee and the RC & D reaffirmed its commitment to the important role of helping Indiana protect the most important, fundamental asset known for the production of food and fiber- the land.
It's also important to include energy as one of the types of production being protected in this easement, Yoder says. There are already 19 operational, with 13 more under construction. The easement allows for construction of towers for turning wind into electricity.
The farm, at an actual count of 7,634 acres, is one of the largest private landholdings in Indiana. It's valued at over $40 million. This same land has belonged to one family for decades. The most recent owner was Juanita Waugh. Not married and with no children to be heirs, she sought to do something productive and reasonable with her land and money.
Wood-Land-Lakes became involved after it was contacted by Dave Bechman, one of the trustees of the estate. It was selected to hold the easement because it has done an excellent job of working with other landowners who wanted to protect their acreage. Naturally, previous acreages were much smaller, but still important environmentally.
Most land trusts seek to protect environmentally sensitive areas. This productive farmland in this instance is likely the most agriculturally productive tract in Wood-Land-Lakes portfolio of conservation easements.
Normally, land with a conservation easement can be sold, but the conservation easement goes with the property. Waugh's will stipulated that besides placing her land in a conservation easement, it could also never be sold.