Section 24. (a) There shall be an agricultural lands preservation committee in the department of agricultural resources. The committee shall consist of the commissioner of agricultural resources, who shall be the chair, the secretary of environmental affairs, the director of housing and community development, an appointee from the Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the chair of the board of agricultural resources or their respective designees, and 4 persons to be appointed by the governor, 2 of whom shall be owners and operators of farms within the commonwealth. Members appointed by the governor shall receive $50 for each day or portion of a day spent in the discharge of their official duties not to exceed $600 annually and shall be reimbursed for the necessary expenses incurred. The state conservationist of the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service shall serve as a nonvoting member.
(b) The committee shall evaluate and accept or reject projects submitted by municipalities. In making such evaluation, the committee shall consider at least the following:
(i) the suitability of land as to soil classification and other criteria for agricultural use;
(ii) the fair market value of the land and the fair market value of the land when used for agricultural purposes as determined by independent appraisals; and
(iii) the degree to which the acquisition would serve to preserve the agricultural potential of the commonwealth.
(c) The commissioner of agricultural resources, subject to the approval of the committee, may establish such rules and regulations as may be deemed necessary to carry out this section. The committee may also provide advice to the commissioner on department policies.
(d) Each member of the committee appointed by the governor shall be appointed for a term of 4 years and shall serve until the member's successor is appointed and qualified. A person appointed to fill a vacancy shall serve for the remainder of the unexpired term of the member creating the vacancy. Members shall be eligible for reappointment.