These wheels turn exceedingly slow

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Pennsylvania voters may find a $150 million bond referendum on an upcoming ballot to fund the state’s farmland preservation program.

The state’s House of Representatives approved the authorizing legislation May 22 and it now moves to the Senate for approval.

In 1987, nearly 70 percent of Pa. residents voting approved a bond referendum for $100 million. The bonds were sold by 1998. The sale of bonds supplements the $21 million per year from the cigarette tax that is dedicated to farmland preservation.

Under Pennsylvania’s Farmland Preservation Program, which began in 1989, the state and counties purchase development rights to guarantee that farms will remain as agricultural land.

Individual landowners apply to county Agricultural Land Preservation Boards. If approved for possible easement purchase, the county boards may request state funding, although counties participate in easements purchases and can purchase easements outright themselves. Counties, such as Lancaster (which has a waiting list of at least 150 farms), have even issued their own bonds for the program.

In 1996, because it had a program established, Pennsylvania was one of the few states to get funding through the farm bill’s farmland preservation program. The state received $1 million in federal funding; six counties split an additional $600,000.

Since 1989, 1,600 farms totaling nearly 195,000 acres have entered development easement agreements.

And then there’s Ohio. Ohio’s geographic and demographic dynamics are a little different than Pennsylvania’s dynamics.

Ohio is a rare state because it’s both an urban and rural state. If anything, the Buckeye State should have been ahead of the Keystone State in its efforts to plan its state’s land use.

But it’s not.

Only two years ago, did the legislation authorizing purchase of development rights become law.

Only last year, did voters approve Issue 1, the Clean Ohio Fund. But its funding waters are muddied – it’s a conglomeration of conservation and cleanup demands, from industrial brownfield sites to streamside protection and from recreational trail development to farmland preservation. Farmland preservation gets only a $25 million slice of the pie. Take a number.

Obviously, the best scenario for preserving farms is to find a way to make agriculture more profitable and less vulnerable to development pressures. But in some urban sprawl rings, the only crop that would bring in enough cash to hold the realtors at bay is an illegal one.

There are areas in Ohio where farmland preservation attempts would be futile, ill-advised and poor use of money. It’s the hardest thing to admit, but it’s probably too late to save “green space” in certain urban fringe areas. Too many people like houses or jobs better.

Three years ago, Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening explained farmland preservation efforts this way: “This farmland is too valuable, this environment is too fragile, the history is too important, the small towns and their way of life are too precious to give it over to sprawl.”

And just two weeks ago, Glendening signed a series of 150 bills aimed at preserving Maryland’s existing communities and open space.

Ohio’s debate is getting tarnished by politics and personalities. The state’s general farm organizations and commodity groups need to join together to elevate the issue’s importance. Most have been silent.

Meanwhile, more strip plazas and more houses are being built in cornfields. And we are to blame.

About the Author

Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell has been with the paper since 1985, serving as its editor since 1989. Raised on a farm in Holmes County, she is a graduate of Kent State University.You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/scrowell and follow Farm and Dairy at http://twitter.com/farmanddairy. You can also find her on Google+ and Facebook. More Stories by Susan Crowell

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