HARTFORD >> Farmland preservation efforts in Connecticut got a big boost Wednesday when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and federal officials announced an agreement that allow the state to access more than $8 million in federal funds for that purpose.

The agreement also will increase flexibility in use of federal money through the state's Farmland Preservation Program. The deal was jointly announced by Malloy, Connecticut Department of Agriculture Commissioner Steven Reviczky and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) State Conservationist Lisa Coverdale.

"I remain committed to the growth of this crucial industry and to the hard working families of Connecticut who work in it," Malloy said in a statement.

More than 300 Connecticut farms have been protected under the Farmland Preservation Program, including nearly 100 achieved with $20 million in funding from the federal USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP).

Reviczky said in a statement the federal funding has allowed the Connecticut officials to preserve more than 13,000 acres of farmland.

The agreement will extend all NRCS farmland-protection funds obligated to Connecticut until March 31, 2015, giving the state greater flexibility in negotiating agreements with farm owners wishing to participate in the program, according to Coverdale.

"NRCS's first objective is to ensure that USDA programs work with the state's programs as efficiently as possible to achieve mutual farmland-protection goals," she said in a statement.

The primary tool in preserving farmland is the conservation easement, said Jim Gooch, executive director of the Connecticut Farmland Trust, a Hartford-based nonprofit focused on efforts to preserve family farms.

"Conservation easements are typically the most cost-effective tool and allow the most flexibility to the farmer," Gooch said.

Conservation easements are a voluntary, legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government entity that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its use, usually for open space or farming.

Gooch said the state's farmland preservation program isn't as effective as it could be because of a lack of staffing at Connecticut's Agriculture Department.

"Getting the bond money for farmland preservation hasn't been a problem for the state," he said. "But for some reason the paperwork that's involved in this takes an eternity to get processed."

Call Luther Turmelle at 203-789-5706.