Farmland Preservation Efforts Reach 5,000 Farms

With the addition of 26 new farms, Pennsylvania's farmland preservation recently 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.

Agriculture secretary Russell Redding joined former state agriculture secretaries, legislators, county and local officials, and farmers from across the commonwealth to celebrate the milestone on Aug. 24 during the bimonthly meeting of the Pennsylvania Agricultural Land Preservation Board. The meeting was held at the SmuckerLand farm in Bird-in-Hand, which was officially the 5,000th farm preserved under the program.

The Pennsylvania Agricultural Land Preservation Board voted 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. The 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, according to a 2015 report from American Farmland Trust.

The Pennsylvania Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Program identifies properties and aims to slow the loss of prime farmland to non-agricultural uses. Its goal is to enable state, county, and local governments to purchase conservation easements, also called development rights, from owners of quality farmland.

For more information, readers may visit http://www.agriculture.pa.gov, select "Encourage," and then click on "Farmland Preservation."

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