Tuesday, June 13, 2017

PA Adds 34 Farms, More Than 2,700 Acres To Farmland Preservation Program

Pennsylvania’s Agricultural Land Preservation Board last Thursday added 2,724 acres on 34 farms in 15 counties to the more than 5,100 farms across the state permanently preserved for agricultural production.
“Pennsylvania farm families are facing difficult economic choices,” said Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. “Our farmland preservation program has given thousands of Pennsylvania families the means to continue farming by protecting their valuable farmland from development.”
At its meeting, the board preserved farms in 15 counties: Berks, Bradford, Cambria, Chester, Cumberland, Franklin, Greene, Lancaster, Lehigh, Mercer, Northampton, Schuylkill, Somerset, Washington and York.
The Pennsylvania Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Program, as it is formally known, 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 United States 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.
The agreement – required with each new federal Farm Bill – continues the tradition of cooperation between the programs. One of the farms using these federal funds, the Robert N. Barley farm from Lancaster County, was approved for easement purchase by the state board.
Since the program began in 1988, federal, state, county and local governments have invested nearly $1.4 billion to preserve 536,181 acres on 5,136 farms in 58 counties for future agricultural production.
While Secretary Redding touted the new farms that were preserved last week, he voiced concern that despite an additional $8 million in funding for farmland preservation under Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget – $40 million versus the $32 million available this year – proposed cuts from the governor’s plan in operating support by House Republicans may threaten the department’s ability to administer the program.
“In contrast to Governor Wolf’s prudent and responsible budget proposal, the arbitrary and across-the-board cuts in House Bill 218 are going to force some very difficult decisions for the department, and that is going to have ramifications for our farming community and for the general public,” said Redding. “If we have to absorb $2 million in less funding, it’ll likely have come out of staff positions. That could impact the farmland preservation program, which is already challenged to manage a program with tens of millions of dollars in funding, 5,100 farms and more than half-a-million acres – all done with only four people.”
The house-approved version of the budget, House Bill 218, would cut the department’s General Government Operations appropriation by $2.055 million as compared to the Governor’s proposal, which would increase that line item by more than $2.2 million.
The loss of that funding would equate to 21 positions within the department, or the equivalent of eliminating the bureaus of Market Development and Farmland Preservation, the Hardwoods Development Council, and about half of the positions in the Bureau of Food Distribution.
For more information on the program, visit Agriculture’s Farmland Preservation webpage and review an interactive map and report on the 2016 Farmland Preservation Program.

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