A weekly blog for all things conservation
By: Amy Kneller, Agricultural Resource Specialist, BCCD
We are often asked “Why preserve farmland here when there isn’t development pressure to protect it from?” While Bradford County doesn’t have the visible development pressure of southeastern Pennsylvania, our areas of prime farmland are under pressure to be developed.
“Prime” is the designation for the most productive soil types. According to Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) soil survey data there are 65,100 acres of “Prime” farmland soils in Bradford County. The next best soils are designated as soils of “Statewide Importance” with 339,700 acres. With 739,080 total acres in the county, Prime soils make up 8.8% of that total and Statewide Importance soils are 46%.
Where are the prime farmland soils located in the county? Well, these soils were formed by glacial deposits and are generally found near our rivers, streams, and other historical valley formations. The lands along the Susquehanna and Chemung rivers, Sugar Creek, Towanda Creek, Wysox Creek, and Wyalusing Creek are primarily prime farmland soils. (See map)
However, these valleys were also the original settlements of the county and are now towns and boroughs, bustling with businesses and people. A lot of prime soils have already been developed over the years and there is a lot of competition for the land that is left.
Let’s look at some of the development that destroyed farmland along the Chemung and Susquehanna rivers. In Milan, many farmland acres are now covered in new homes and a concrete plant. The work housing site on Wilawana Road was once productive farmland. In Wysox, Tractor Supply, Dandy Mini Mart expansion, the new Williams Gas building and the natural gas power plant were all built on prime farmland. The New Fortress Energy project in Wyalusing has consumed many acres of prime land permanently. Prime farmland just north of Wysox on Route 187 is for sale (zoned commercial) and a prime farm on Route 220 near Milan is posted for sale. How long before this prime farmland is gone too?
Hundreds of natural gas pads in the county will someday be “reclaimed”. Even if this land is actually returned to production, it will take an investment of time and money for the farmer to get that land back to its previous level of production.
We also have residential development throughout the county. Some people think farmland makes the best neighbor since it is quiet and slow, with views of nature - a perfect place for a retreat from the world. Farms are surrounded by houses on 1.99 acres or 10+ acre lots that are sized to avoid clean and green program penalties.
“So what if we lose our prime farmland soils. Won’t we still have plenty of soils of Statewide Importance?” some may ask. Maybe, but these soils are less productive. When comparing grain corn yields, prime soils (river and creek side) generally yield an average of 185 bushels of corn per acre. Statewide Importance soils average around 125 bushels per acre with the same input costs. These other soils are still important, and will grow other crops successfully, but may never reach the profits attainable by prime soils.
The Bradford County Farmland Preservation Program is working to protect our best prime farmland. We have protected 4,317 acres since 2001. We have procedures in place and a lot of landowner interest, but preservation is slow due to limited funding. We need the support of our community to save this prime farmland.
Next week we will look at the three components that are needed to protect our prime farmland and how the community can help.
The Bradford County Conservation District is committed to helping people manage resources wisely. You can visit the Bradford County Conservation District at 200 Lake Rd in Wysox across from the Wysox Fire Hall. Contact us at (570) 485-3144 or visit our web page at www.bccdpa.com.
Various staff at the Bradford County Conservation District