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American Farmland Trust's National Conference
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Secretary of Agriculture, Michael Scuse - photo courtesy of the State of DelawareSecretary of Agriculture
Michael T. Scuse

Michael T. Scuse, Delaware’s Secretary of Agriculture, says his overriding responsibility is “to protect and enhance the sustainability of Delaware’s agriculture industry.” Scuse is also a grain farmer and an avid horseman. His work as Secretary and his love of the land leads to his strong belief in Governor Minner’s Livable Delaware legislation that prevents development from spreading farther and farther into the state’s rural areas.

Since becoming Secretary of Agriculture in 2001, Scuse has helped make Delaware’s Agricultural Lands Preservation program a national success story. The Agricultural Lands Preservation program began purchasing easements in 1996, and the state has spent more than $103 million to permanently protect almost 80,000 acres. To date, 442 farms have permanent agricultural easements. Delaware is number one in the nation in terms of percentage of its land permanently preserved for agriculture.

A bill signed by Governor Minner in 2005 earmarks $10 million a year in revenues from the realty transfer tax as a permanent funding source for the preservation of farmland. Revenues from this tax have grown from $50.2 million in fiscal year 2002 to more than $117 million projected for fiscal year 2006. A second 2005 bill, the Forestland Preservation Act, parallels the state’s very successful Agricultural Lands Preservation Act. This new program will protect and enhance Delaware’s remaining forestlands to provide for the future of the state’s forest industry, preserve wildlife habitat and open space, and safeguard air and water quality. “These two bills will help protect our agricultural industry from sprawl—leapfrog development—that gobbles up valuable farmland and forestland and makes it tougher for farmers to operate and protect our quality of life,” Secretary Scuse said. “There is, however, more to be done.”

Early in 2006, the County Council of New Castle County unanimously approved legislation that shifts the administrative oversight of its farmland preservation program to the state. The county will provide $3 million to the program this year, a total that will be matched by the state. Sussex County and Kent County are also partnering with the farmland preservation program; this year, Sussex County put in $1 million and Kent County $250 thousand. “With the counties’ involvement in this effort,” Secretary Scuse said, “it means that some of our best farmland, which may have been out of reach for preservation, can now be preserved for future generations. This will help us preserve agriculture, our most important industry.”

American Farmland Trust