A weekly blog for all things conservation
Last week I wrote about “prime” soils and development pressure on prime farmland here in Bradford County. This week I would like to look at the three required components of farmland preservation and how the community can get involved with this important program. Farmland Preservation requires municipalities, landowners, and funding.
To be eligible for the county Farmland Preservation program, farms must:
1) be part of an Agricultural Security Area (ASA)
2) contain at least 50% class I through IV soils, as defined by USDA-NRCS.
3) contain at least 50% harvested cropland, pasture or grazing lands
4) contain at least 50 contiguous acres OR over 10 acres and utilized for a crop unique to the area or contiguous to a property that already has a permanent conservation easement.
Ag Security Areas (ASAs) are created by local municipalities to preserve the viability of local farms. Participating farms are protected from some “nuisance” challenges and local ordinances that would unreasonably restrict farm structures or farm practices. The ASA designation does not restrict the use of the property by the landowner. They may develop, sell, or subdivide the property in any manner authorized by local regulations.
Bradford County has 33 established ASAs (32 townships and one borough) that include 1,831 parcels and 146,840 acres. Most of these ASAs were created in the early 1990’s with cooperation between farmers and township supervisors. Five townships have chosen not to participate in this program. They are Wysox, Canton, Armenia, Stevens, and Overton. Farms in these five townships can join an ASA in another township if their land is zoned to permit agricultural use and township supervisors sign a statement allowing them to join. Canton and Overton townships have allowed farms to join other ASAs.
The next component is landowner interest. The farmland preservation process is initiated by the landowner. They are committing to maintain their property as harvested, productive farmland FOREVER. The landowner is making a lifelong, multi-generational decision that affects their options for the future. The farm can be sold, but the buyer also commits to this perpetual easement. Preserved farms are inspected every 2 years to ensure that they are meeting the requirements of the easement.
The third thing that we must have for farmland preservation is funding. Landowners receive funds in exchange for the right to develop their land. All funds go directly to easement purchase costs.
Funds are generated from a state 2% cigarette tax and the interest generated by clean and green rollback taxes. Annually, state funding is designated by legislators and distributed among counties according to a match of county certified funds and a formula that is written into law. Counties are required to submit clean and green rollback tax interest and any additional funds budgeted for the program. These, and any other contributions, are submitted to the state where they are matched. The higher the local funds, the more that is matched at the state. The balance of state funds is distributed based on a formula that uses realty transfer tax to determine the amount each county receives.
These funding formulas have given us an average of $136,829 per year over the last five years. With these funds, we can protect 136 acres from development. Since 2001 we have preserved 4,317 acres of farmland. This will keep us moving forward, but at a very slow pace.
We have new applicants that are actively farming on very productive land, and targeted by developers, in addition to over 5,000 acres waiting on our backlog list. The only way to speed up this process is to generate additional funds from support of our county commissioners, local municipality boards, and community donations. All allocations and donations are matched with additional state funds.
If you believe in the importance, and urgency, of preserving prime farmland in Bradford County, please encourage your local municipality and county commissioners to invest in the Bradford County Farmland Preservation program.
Various staff at the Bradford County Conservation District