Tennessee is home to some of the most charming bucolic scenes in the country. It is also full of productive, working farms. Unfortunately, this way of life is constantly under threat from developers, governments and even from within farming families.

Those working the land often want to preserve their traditions across generations. The problem is that many do not know where to start. Depending on the situation, the law could provide some help.

Land protection

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture has made significant investments — in partnership with the Land Trust of Tennessee — in supporting farmers’ efforts to conserve their land. One of the most conspicuous of these efforts is the Transaction Assistance Fund.

The Fund provides financial support for qualified applicants. It helps pay for the various administrative tasks that working farms would otherwise have difficulty accessing. In addition to cost reduction, the TDA also offers a wealth of information about the process.

There are a variety of instruments of varying permanence and enforceability. Examples include easements, conservation programs and so on. The right choice typically allows the farm to grow naturally while providing an additional layer of protection against encroaching development.

Estate planning

Of course, not all threats come from outside developers, government agencies and other third parties. Some exist within families. As explained on FindLaw, commercial farms could require probate if the right of survivorship does not apply. This could lead to conflict or subversion of the intent to conserve.

Although some land protection tools could stop development, many depend on continued agricultural operation. Individuals who worry about the decisions of their heirs often turn to advanced estate planning. The goal of these strategies is often twofold: to avoid probate and to improve the chances of continued agricultural use.

State and municipal governments often have a complex and ambivalent relationship with agricultural landowners. Helping farmers understand important regulations and protections could be the key to safeguarding Tennessee’s farming heritage for generations to come.