With the addition of 26 new farms, Pennsylvania’s farmland preservation reached a new milestone today, surpassing the 5,000-farm mark.
Pennsylvania’s program leads the nation in the number of farms and the number of farm acres that have been preserved in perpetuity for agricultural production.
The total conservation easements for Berks County farms totals $566,750, including the recent additions of Wagner Farms Partnership, in Oley Township, preserving 113.20 acres, and Leon S. & Alta M. Zimmerman, in Longswamp and Maxatawny townships, preserving 113.50 acres.
Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding joined former state agriculture secretaries, legislators, county and local officials, and farmers from across the commonwealth to celebrate the milestone Aug. 24 during the bi-monthly meeting of the Pennsylvania Agricultural Land Preservation Board. The meeting was held at the SmuckerLand farm in Lancaster County, which was officially the 5,000th farm preserved under the program.
“Preserving Pennsylvania’s best farmland is an investment in our heritage, in our economy, in our ability to sustain ourselves, and in our environment,” said Redding. “Across the state – for decades now – some of our most productive lands have been lost forever to development. And those pressures continue. Protecting our agricultural industry and our ability to grow and produce food is a strategic and economic imperative for us as a state. To do that requires that we preserve the precious asset that is our state’s farmland.”
All told, the Pennsylvania Agricultural Land Preservation Board voted today to safeguard 2,475 additional acres on 26 farms in 16 counties, including Adams, Bedford, Berks, Bucks, Butler, Cumberland, Dauphin, Fayette, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lawrence, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, Westmoreland and York.
Additionally, the board approved increasing the farmland preservation program’s spending threshold in light of new funding as part of the 2016-17 fiscal year budget. In July, the commonwealth appropriated another $5 million for farmland preservation from cigarette tax revenues. This additional funding makes it possible for the state to increase the amount of funding available to $36 million, up from the $31 million threshold set at the February 2016 meeting before the budget’s enactment.
“Governor Wolf and the members of the Pennsylvania legislature recognized the importance of preserving our farmland and the future of agriculture in Pennsylvania, and I want to recognize and thank them for that appreciation and leadership,” said Redding. “There is an extensive backlog of farms across the state waiting to be preserved. Those farm owners have been waiting anxiously – some of them for years – to be able to protect their farm. And once they have done so, many of them will turn around and invest those proceeds right back into their operations. With these new funds, we’ll be able to start chipping away at that backlog.”
Since the state’s farmland preservation program began in 1988, federal, state, county and local governments have invested more than $1.3 billion to preserve 525,020 acres on 5,003 farms in 58 counties for future agricultural production. The number of farms preserved in Pennsylvania is nearly equal to the number preserved in Maryland and New Jersey combined – two states that rank second and third, respectively, for farmland preservation behind Pennsylvania according to a 2015 report from American Farmland Trust.
The Pennsylvania Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Program identifies properties and slows the loss of prime farmland to non-agricultural uses. It enables state, county and local governments to purchase conservation easements, also called development rights, from owners of quality farmland.
For more information, visit www.agriculture.pa.gov, click “Encourage,” then “Farmland Preservation.”