The state has preserved 600,000 acres on 5,700 farms — an almost $1.6 billion accomplishment. Another 1,400 farms are on waiting lists to be preserved.
“Here in Pennsylvania, we like to tout the fact that we lead the nation in farmland preservation,” said Douglas Wolfgang, director of the Pennsylvania Ag Department’s Bureau of Farmland Preservation.
Wolfgang spoke in a June 8 webinar on farm preservation in Pennsylvania hosted by the American Farmland Trust.
This summer the trust is holding 31 webinars on the state of farm preservation in individual states. The sessions accompany new reports that the group has produced for each of the featured states.
The report for Pennsylvania says the state continues to lose farmland to development. Housing alone ate up 244,000 acres between 2001 and 2016 — a period when the state added roughly half a million residents.
Some 347,000 acres were preserved in that time.
Preserving farmland remains a good idea, Wolfgang said.
“We have some of the most fertile nonirrigated farmland in the country and a diverse farming community,” he said. “We need to protect our farmland and the farming community to ensure a safe and self-reliant food supply.”
Fifty-eight of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties have their own land preservation board, and 23 land trusts are active in preserving farms.
While most of the funding for preservation comes from taxes, nonprofits and private land trusts, landowners have made important contributions too.
“Farm owner generosity has been the single biggest source of leverage for preservation throughout the program’s history,” Wolfgang said. “In the average transaction, the farmer has accepted about 80% of the easement’s market value. That means farmers themselves have donated millions and millions of dollars to the program.”
Wolfgang said the trust’s report is the most comprehensive study he’s ever seen of farmland loss in Pennsylvania. He said the document should inform the discussions of local officials and preservations.
The American Farmland Trust has completed webinars for Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia and Maryland. Virginia will be covered in a June 25 webinar, and Connecticut will end the series on July 20.
All the webinars have been or will be recorded and posted on YouTube. They can be accessed at bit.ly/2N0abU3
4,000 Acres Added
Pennsylvania recently preserved 4,432 acres of farmland with the purchase of perpetual easements on 48 farms in 25 counties.
Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding announced the purchases on June 11 during a ceremony at one of the sites being preserved, the Deckman farm in Cumberland County.
The easement purchases were approved by the State Agricultural Land Preservation Board, part of the Department of Agriculture.
The state’s investment in the June 11 easements was $11.9 million. The 25 counties kicked in another $2 million for a total purchase price of $13.9 million, or $3,136 per acre.
The easements guarantee that the preserved land will remain in agriculture for a period of time that covers, to quote one of Redding’s favorite lines, “forever and a day.”
A number of factors — location and soil type, for example — determine the price paid per preserved acre. Under the June 11 authorization, the owner of an average 100-acre farm could have received $313,600 for giving up the right to develop his or her land for any use other than agriculture.
“The acreage preserved today is an act of looking to the future food needs of Pennsylvanians, the nation, and the world,” Redding said. “COVID-19 has placed a microscope on the availability of food, our most basic need. Preserving farmland is the first step to ensuring food is available tomorrow.”