Pa. farmland preservation efforts leads nation

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farmland preservation
Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding (left) and fellow Pennsylvanians celebrated the state's 5,000th preserved farm at Smuckerland Farms in Bird-In-Hand, Pa. Pennsylvania now leads the nation in the number of farms and farm acres that have been preserved.

BIRD-IN-HAND, Pa. — With the addition of 26 new farms, Pennsylvania’s farmland preservation reached a new milestone, 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, according to Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding, who joined former state agriculture secretaries, legislators, county and local officials, and farmers 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.”

Latest round

The Pennsylvania Agricultural Land Preservation Board voted Aug. 24 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.

The latest round included the following farms in western Pennsylvania:

  • Butler County: The E. & J. Webb Farm LLC farm, a 227.8-acre crop and livestock operation;
  • Fayette County: The Anthony and Charlotte DeCarlo farm #4, a 67.2-acre crop and livestock operation;
  • Lawrence County: The Mark and Kathy Butler farm, a 99.9-acre crop and livestock operation;
  • Westmoreland County: The Robert and Jennifer Berich farm #1, a 53.3-acre crop and livestock operation; and the Kevin and Debra McVicker farm #1, a 138.3-acre crop and livestock operation.

Future funding

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.

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.

How it works

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.

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