"Enhanced tax incentives are an important tool to help landowners protect their farm and ranch land from development," says Dennis Nuxoll, senior director of legislative affairs for American Farmland Trust (AFT). "Since 2006, the tax credit for donating a conservation easement on land has been key to increasing overall land protection efforts by a third each year."

Nearly 70 organizations are calling for Congress to make the credit for donating conservation easements permanent as part of any tax legislation that may be taken up during the lame duck session.

By placing a conservation easement on their farm or ranch land, landowners donate development rights, with the enrolled property limited to agricultural and other compatible uses. Participating farms remain in private ownership and on the tax rolls.

Previously, landowners with modest incomes received little or no tax benefit from donating the development rights on their land -- which is often the family's most valuable asset. By allowing conservation easement donors to receive a larger tax credit over a longer period -- 15 years -- this incentive enables thousands of landowners to afford to protect their farm and ranch land.

"Farmland protection protects farms and ranches from development, and keeps our land producing food, fiber, renewable energy and environmental benefits for everyone," adds Nuxoll. "By making the tax credit for donating a conservation easement a permanent part of the tax law, we have an opportunity to build on the gains in protecting farmland made since the tax provision was enacted."

Nuxoll says the tax incentive was enacted in 2006 and lapsed in 2010, which immediately led to the loss of hundreds of potential donations of development rights on farmland. "We'd like to see Congress make the credit for donating conservation easements permanent as part of legislation before the Senate and House by the end of the lame duck session. The bills in both chambers (S. 812 and H.R. 1831) have numerous co-sponsors, including the majorities of both parties, and from all 50 states. The time to get this important legislation done is now."