By TORY LINGG

Tri County Correspondent

A good local source of food can be a great benefit to a region, especially with a very dense center of population . There are approximately 600,000 acres in Lan-caster County, and 380,-000 are used for agriculture.

Of the approximately 14,000 acres of land in Caernarvon Township, Lancaster County, 7,000 are used for farming.

Southeastern Penns-ylvania contains 67 percent of the best land suitable for ag use in the state. It is also the most densely populated area of the state. In order to help farmers and land-owners learn more about ways to preserve their land and get some financial benefits out of it, the supervisors decided to invite representatives from several land conservation bureaus to explain their programs to the people. About 65 farmers attended the gathering on March 22 at the Churchtown Fire Hall.

Supervisor Gary Van Dyke introduced Matt Knepper, from the Lan-caster County Ag Pre-serve Board. Knepper said he has been with the Ag Preserve Board for eight years and is presently the acting director. He said, "The Lancaster County Ag Review Board was established in 1980 by Amos Funk. It became a county office in 1983. In 1989, the Pennsyl-vania program was or-ganized.'

The conservation ea-sements placed on the land become a permanent record at the Lancaster County Re-corder of Deeds. To qualify for the program initiated by the Ag Preserve Board, there are certain requirements which must be met.

The parcel to be preserved must be of 10 acres or more. It must be zoned agricultural. The quality of the soil for ag use is graded. It cannot be located in a designated growth area. The zoning can be changed at the will of the township officials, but the parcel is permanently preserved. The land must be in an ag security zone, which provides relief from nuisance laws and puts breaks on the use of eminent domain.

The three agencies working to preserve farmland and open space are the Lancaster Ag Review Board, the Bran-dywine Conservancy, and the Lancaster Farm-land Trust. Knepper said "The Ag Preserve Board has more money available this year than ever before. There is $8 million available from Lancaster County and $9.3 million available from the state.'

The program is not run on a first come first serve basis. There are restrictions. The soil and topography must be evaluated. The development pressure and the farmland potential is considered.

"We are looking for clusters of preserved farms,' said Knepper. Applications for the year are accepted beginning on Sept. 2 of each year and are accepted through Sept. 1 of the following year. Each year the board accepts farms into the program until they run out of funds assigned for the year.

The farm must be appraised by a state certified appraiser. The funds available per acre for preserving land are highest in Chester County and lowest in Berks County, with Lancaster County being in the middle.

The time period for the process is six months to a year. It might take three years. It helps if the local township can contribute to the costs. To be considered for approval in the program, there is no cost to the landowner and no penalty is levied if a landowner withdraws during the appraisal period.

An agent from the Ag Board must visit the farm once a year to be certain the terms of the agreement are being followed. Applications for the program and more information is available at the Caernarvon Town-ship Building or by calling 717-445-4244.

"The tipping fees from the Lanchester Landfill amount to about $500,000 a year," said Van Dyke. "A fund is set up for parks and recreation. How much should we use from our budget for a land preservation fund? We are in the process of reviewing the data. We have to consider the future of the landfill and the improvements on Route 23. In the next few weeks, a representative from a-nother agency will ex-plain their program."

The Caernarvon Pres-ervation Fund is a re-stricted land preservation fund held by the Lancaster Farmland Trust to promote the preservation of farmland in Caernarvon Township by using conservation easements and other available methods. The CPF was founded in 2000 and is funded by individuals, organizations and businesses.

On Feb. 1 the balance in the CPF was $82,614. The primary donor has been the Chester County Solid Waste Authority. The township might promote the preservation of farmland by matching private donations on an annual basis. The Lanc-aster County Commiss-ioners are matching 2006 donations to the Lancaster Farmland Trust up to $1 million. The number of the Lancaster Farmland Trust is 717-293-0707.

The Comprehensive Plan for Lancaster County dated February 2006, sets the guidelines for recommended land use when considering culture/heritage, housing needs, open space, tourism, transportation, and water resources. It also contains statistics of whether the guidelines are being met.

Data from the New York Times Feb. 7, 2006, points at present, out of every dollar, real estate earnings equal 10.8 cents and rank third in earnings on the top nine categories of profits.

The cost of farmland in Lancaster County is soaring with the median cost of non preserved farmland in eastern Lancaster at $17,707 per acre. Preserved land in the district is selling for about $13,266 per acre. The cheapest land is in the western side of the county where preserved land sells for $8,873 an acre and non preserved land sells for $11,828.

Many national brands are setting up operations in South American countries like Chile, Equator, Peru, and Brazil, where labor costs are less. In the United States farm workers might be paid $7.50 an hour, but in South America, they get $7.50 per day.

Since April 2005, the United States has been importing more food than it is exporting, thus adding to the imbalance in trade. Much of the added costs are specialty products that are not grown in the United States or can be bought cheaper somewhere else.

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