Abstract Purchasing development rights to protect farmland has drawn much attention in the United States. The use of less-than-free acquisition of land has been conducted for a number of years. This paper traces the beginnings of separating interests in land as a preservation technique, with purchase of development rights (PDR) to preserve farmland as its focus. The paper begins with a review of literature relating specifically to the use of PDR. Within this review three general areas are covered: definitions and explanations of the PDR approach; advantages and disadvantages of PDR; and purposes and goals of the approach. Once this initial section has defined the technique, a broad historical presentation of easements as a protection tool is made. Here the use of the easement device is presented to suggest how the PDR effort has evolved. A number of influences are noted and examples of its use are given. Finally, a review of state and local programs using PDR to protect important farmland is provided. The conclusion of this article suggests that PDR will continue to receive consideration as a farmland protection strategy as more areas develop an interest and familiarity with the method.