State’s commitment to farmland preservation reaches $1B milestone

HARRISBURG — The state farmland preservation board’s first meeting of the year not only brought good news for families who have committed to protecting their farms in perpetuity, it also marked a milestone in the history of the nation-leading program.

The Agricultural Land Preservation Board last week preserved 28 farms covering 2,043 acres in 16 counties.

The board also approved the 2018 spending threshold of $37 million, which pushes the commonwealth’s total commitment to farmland preservation to more than $1 billion since 1988. Gov. Tom Wolf included another $40 million for Farmland Preservation in his 2018-19 budget.

“Today is a good day for the families who are committing their farms to the future of agriculture in Pennsylvania because they want to see their farms remain in production, and it’s a good day for the future of the industry here,” said state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. “It’s also a historic day as we mark another milestone. For 30 years, we have been investing in the future of agriculture as a commonwealth-protecting our most fertile lands from the threat of development. Now, we have the nation’s largest program of its type. That is something we should all be proud of.”

The 28 farms preserved last week are in Allegheny, Beaver, Berks, Centre, Chester, Clinton, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Montour, Northampton, Northumberland, Wayne, Westmoreland and York counties.

Since the program began in 1988, federal, state, county and local governments have purchased permanent easements on 5,270 farms totaling 546,963 acres in 59 counties for agricultural production.

In addition to the $37 million state spending threshold the 17-member board approved for 2018 easement purchases, counties have certified another $16.7 million in funding for farmland preservation this year.

Last year, Pennsylvania counties surpassed the $500 million mark for total funds committed to the program throughout its history.

“Nearly $54 million in new funding will be committed to preserving farmland in the coming year. Those acres will be set aside to help feed future generations in Pennsylvania and around the world,” added Redding. “But even as we celebrate 30 years of preservation success, there is clearly more work to do. Nearly 1,500 farms wait on county backlog lists, waiting to be protected permanently from the threat of development. Having Governor Wolf’s commitment for additional funding next year and the commitment of our county partners will help close that backlog.”

The following farms in the region have been preserved in the latest bout:

Centre County

• The Harold and Dawn and Larry and Suzanne Harpster farm #1, a 60.1-acre crop and livestock operation

Clinton County

• The David L. and Esther D. Campbell farm #1, a 71.76-acre crop farm

Lackawanna County

• The Elizabeth J. Howanski farm No. 1, a 68.77-acre crop farm

Montour County

• The C. Herbert Zeager farm No. 3, a 25.41-acre crop and livestock operation

Northumberland County

• The Maurice and Rhoda Hertzler farm, an 81.21-acre crop farm