MECHANICSBURG, Pa. — A three-decade partnership has secured the future of more than 20,000 acres of Cumberland County farmland, Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said today.
He joined Cumberland County officials and farmland preservation staff for a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the county’s participation in Pennsylvania’s state farmland preservation program, held at Paulus Farm Market in Mechanicsburg. The Paulus family has preserved 219 acres of farmland, which grows much of the produce sold at their market, since the establishment of the county program in 1989.
“Preservation starts at the local level: with a commitment by farmers themselves and a community that is willing to secure a future for farming where they call home,” said Redding. “Cumberland County is a case study in the value of safeguarding our agricultural lands, as its leaders recognize the importance of growth and prosperity – and ensure that agriculture is a key component of the landscape physically and economically.”
The Pennsylvania Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Program, as it is formally known, is dedicated to slowing the loss of prime farmland to non-agricultural uses. Funding allows state, county, and local governments to purchase conservation easements from owners of quality farmland. State, county, local, and federal funds committed at each meeting are allocated to county programs to purchase development rights to preserve farms on county waiting lists.
Fifty-eight participating county programs receive state funds for the purchase of agricultural conservation easements. Counties participating in the program have appointed agricultural land preservation boards, with a state board created to oversee this program. The state board is responsible for distribution of state funds, approval and monitoring of county programs, and specific easement purchases.
Farm owners apply to the county program. Farm applications are ranked and then forwarded to the state board for final approval. Applications can be obtained at the county level.
Since the program began in 1988, federal, state, county, and local governments have purchased permanent easements on 5,580 farms totaling 572,527 acres in 59 counties for agricultural production. Pennsylvania leads the nation in acreage of farmland preserved.
These investments in preserving farmland for future production will be further enhanced by investments Governor Wolf signed through the PA Farm Bill. It created the Agriculture Business Development Center to support business planning, marketing, diversification, and transition planning for Pennsylvania farmers. The bill package also included a realty transfer tax exemption for the transfer of preserved farmland to a qualified beginning farmer.
–Shannon Powers, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture