In November, the Pennsylvania Legislative Budget and Finance Committee released its comprehensive evaluation of the state’s farmland protection program, Review of the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. Senate Resolution 2007-197 called for the assessment as the program approached its 20th anniversary and directed the committee to address nineteen issues—everything from project selection criteria to the potential use of state funds for enforcement actions. According to Doug Wolfgang, director of the state’s Bureau of Farmland Preservation, the report’s discussion of potential additional sources of funding is key—2008 marked the first year that matching funds from 57 participating counties outstripped available state funds. Wolfgang also pointed to the description of local involvement in the formation of Agricultural Security Areas (ASAs, a.k.a., agricultural districts), which is a prerequisite for selling an easement. “The committee found that the formation of ASAs helps ensure that permanent farmland protection supports, and is consistent with, local planning.” Another highlight is the committee’s finding that most program managers support elimination of a provision that enables the extinguishment of easements after 25 years if the land is no longer viable for agriculture. Wolfgang thinks lawmakers may tackle the extinguishment issue when they reconvene at the end of the month; consideration of new funding options is not likely to occur until the state budget improves.
Pennsylvania's farmland preservation program has protected more acres than any other state-level program. American Farmland Trust played an instrumental role in the development and creation of this now 20-year-old farmland protection program. As of February 2008, the state has protected
acres of Pennsylvania’s most productive farmland by working with 57 county governments. more
AFT recently completed an assessment of agricultural viability in Berks and Schuylkill counties. Commissioned by the Berks County Community Foundation, the report analyzed the region's agricultural sustainability and made recommendations to address the challenges of declining farm profitability, competition for land, and lack of public appreciation and leadership for agriculture in the region. Recommendations included creating an agricultural economic development entity and designing an education campaign for government officials and the general public on agricultural issues. The study's advisory committee recently convened to discuss implementation of this new plan for the future viability of agriculture in the two counties.
Read Challenges and Opportunities for Agricultural Viability in Berks and Schuylkill Counties
Support for farms and farming continues to rise in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The county is developing a rural strategy squarely aimed at farmland protection and agricultural viability, a blue ribbon commission has identified techniques for making farming more profitable and county officials have issued a $25 million bond primarily for farmland protection. AFT's consulting services team helped develop the land use plan's rural strategy and provided technical assistance and support for the on-the-ground efforts of the Blue Ribbon Commission and others interested in sustaining farmland and the agricultural industry in Lancaster County.
Lancaster Comprehensive Plan
Lancaster Agricultural Preserve Board
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