HARRISBURG — The farms protected at Thursday’s meeting of the Pennsylvania Agricultural Land Preservation Board represent targeted investments in the future of farming, Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said.

“Pennsylvanians share a connection to our farmland – we reaffirmed that commitment 30 years ago with the creation of a state farmland preservation program, and through state funding initiatives, county-level programs, non-profits, and farmers themselves, we continue to live that commitment to food production in the Keystone State,” said Redding. “Safeguarding our land is the first step to securing our best agricultural land for generations to come.

The board preserved 27 farms covering 2,115 acres across 15 counties: Adams, Blair, Bucks, Cambria, Chester, Dauphin, Franklin, Lebanon, Lehigh, Montgomery, Montour, Schuylkill, Tioga, Union, and York. Since the program began in 1988, federal, state, county, and local governments have purchased permanent easements on 5,607 farms totaling 574,642 acres in 59 counties for agricultural production.

The farms include three preserved by the Hissong family in Franklin County that support a dairy operation, which join four other farms totaling more than 700 acres that have been preserved by the family. The board also preserved the Mark and Kelly Shannon farm in Adams County, which grows fruits and vegetables for sale at local farmers markets and for delivery to customers in Washington, D.C.

Seven farms approved in Lehigh County are preserved using funds solely sourced from the county. Counties have contributed more than $500 million to the state’s preservation efforts since the program’s inception.

Other farms preserved include equine, poultry, crop, and livestock operations. Many families accepted reduced compensation for their easements, and several donated their farmland outright.

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 the meeting are allocated to county programs to purchase development rights to preserve farms on county waiting lists.

These investments in preserving farmland for future production are being further enhanced by investments Gov. 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.

Local farms preserved:

Montour

The Gary and Renee and Glenn and Sue Hertzler farm #1, a 58.32-acre crop farm

Schuylkill

The James and Margie Wolfgang farm, a 26.45-acre crop farm

Tioga

The Travis and Denise Hartranft farm, a 144.54-acre crop and livestock operation

Union

The John Clemens farm, a 93.86-acre crop farm

The Mark and Lori and Matthew and Toni Ann Marie Dersham farm #1, a poultry operation

The Calvin and JoAnn Stoltzfus farm #1, a 119.27-acre crop and livestock operation

Chris Brady is managing editor at The Standard-Journal and can be reached at chris@standard-journal.com.

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