Pennsylvania strengthened its nation-leading farmland preservation program Thursday by safeguarding 2,369 more acres on 26 farms across the state.
“2016 was a milestone year, where we protected our 5,000th farm and welcomed a new county, Clearfield, into our respected program,” said Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. “I look forward to building on these achievements in 2017. Because of passionate support from legislators, staff, volunteers, farmers and all Pennsylvanians for nearly three decades, the next generation is assured of land that will always be available for production agriculture.”
S ince the program began in 1988, federal, state, county and local governments have invested more than $1.3 billion to preserve 531,025 acres on 5,071 farms in 58 counties for future agricultural production.
The state Agricultural Land Preservation Board preserved farms in 18 counties: Beaver, Berks, Bucks, Butler, Cambria, Chester, Cumberland, Dauphin, Fayette, Huntingdon, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, Northumberland, Susquehanna, Union, Westmoreland and York.
In 2016, Gov. Wolf, the Department of Agriculture, its Bureau of Farmland Preservation and partners moved agricultural land preservation in Pennsylvania forward by:
-- Securing a $5 million increase in dedicated funding in Governor Wolf’s 2016-17 state budget;
-- Preserving its 5,000th farm, the SmuckerLand Farm in Bird-In-Hand, Lancaster County;
-- Signing a cooperative agreement with the federal Agricultural Conservation Easement Program to receive federal funding for preserving farms;
-- Signing legislation to exempt preserved farms from a realty transfer tax;
-- Signing legislation to provide more predictability in use values for producers enrolled in the Clean and Green program;
-- Launching the Preserved Farms Resource Center to provide professional succession planning services to owners of preserved farms;
-- Securing grant funding for the center through legislation; and
-- Recognizing 16 century and five bicentennial farm families.
The board approved at the meeting a $36 million state funding threshold for 2017 easement purchases. Counties across Pennsylvania have certified $17.2 million for farmland preservation in 2017.
“The increased funding threshold and increased commitments by county programs show that 2017 will be another great year for our program,” added Redding. “The $40 million spending authority proposed by Gov. Wolf in his 2017-18 budget would further allow for us to continue the work of preserving our best agricultural land for future farmers.”
Pennsylvania’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Program identifies properties and slows the loss of prime farmland to nonagricultural uses. It enables state, county and local governments to purchase conservation easements, also called development rights, from owners of quality farmland.
In some cases, federal funding helps to preserve these lands. In 2016, the department signed a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service that allows Pennsylvania’s program to submit farms for consideration by the federal Agricultural Conservation Easement Program.
Currently, seven farms and 651 acres are slated to be preserved using $1,033,550 from that program at future board meetings, with the opportunity for additional funds to be awarded in 2017.For more information, visit Agriculture’s Farmland Preservation webpage.