- August 12, 2020
Those of us who grew up in the outlying boroughs and townships of Lycoming County in the 1960s and 70s remember traveling to Williamsport for shopping and entertainment and passing miles and miles of farmland along the route. But as the world changed, so did Lycoming County. Children of farmers decided they wanted to go
Those of us who grew up in the outlying boroughs and townships of Lycoming County in the 1960s and 70s remember traveling to Williamsport for shopping and entertainment and passing miles and miles of farmland along the route. But as the world changed, so did Lycoming County. Children of farmers decided they wanted to go into other lines of work, and the family farm slowly declined. When the farmers were offered handsome prices by developers for their land, it was too much to resist. Townships that were in need of tax revenue followed suit by making the necessary rezoning, and slowly but surely, the landscape changed from a reflection of nature to monuments of enterprise.
This same scenario happened all over America, and especially in Pennsylvania, which had great numbers of local farms. So it was, in 1988, the Farmland Preservation Program was established to curb the conversion of prime farmland to non-agricultural uses and the loss of productive farm soils. Our state lawmakers are often maligned for sloppy legislating, but they showed amazing insight 30 years ago. To fund the program they set up, they used cigarette tax revenue as the most significant source of dedicated funding for farmland preservation in Pennsylvania. Thanks to this vice that so many enjoy, approximately $20.5 million is available for the ag preservation program annually. It is this access to a steady source of matching funding that is a key reason Pennsylvania’s farmland preservation program has been so successful.
In fact, Pennsylvania is the national leader in farmland preservation. In addition to saving the land necessary for food production, it has encouraged soil and water conservation and maintained the rural heritage of communities. Since 1989, the program has purchased easements on more than 5,000 farms, permanently preserving more than 530,000 acres, in some 57 counties in the Commonwealth.
Lycoming County participates in this program through the Conservation District office directed by Mark Davidson. Mr. Davidson made a presentation at the County Commissioners Meeting on January 11th to seek approval of the 2018 Certification of Funds for the Agricultural Preservation Program. It is the purpose of this program to protect viable agricultural land by acquiring conservation easements in perpetuity to prevent the development of the land for any purpose other than agricultural production. The 2018 funding would provide $332,000 for easement purchases of land in the county, much of the funding coming from the Commonwealth.
Mr. Davidson gave a good summary and history of the program to the commissioners at their work session meeting on January 9th. Lycoming County has participated almost as soon as the Commonwealth initiated it by appointing a seven-member Board in October of 1990 to develop a farmland preservation plan. After almost a year of work, this plan was submitted to the State Agricultural Land Preservation Board for approval, which was done in 1992. Since that time, the Conservation District has served as the conduit by processing the applications, and the subsequent approval then comes from the county’s State Agricultural Land Preservation Board. Currently, there are 74 easements preserving over 9,000 acres of County farmland for future generations.
Everyone benefits greatly from this program. First, the pressure upon the family farm has been significantly weakened. Like all other industries, technological advancements have made operations more efficient. But these advances cost money, and the local farmer simply could not compete against the major agricultural combines with the latest and greatest equipment. When it cost a local farmer more money to produce a gallon of milk or a carton of eggs than they could sell it for, there is no hope to keep the farm going. But through this program, the farmer receives a financial incentive and security for the land use. The public benefits from the “Farmer’s Markets” that populate our region that provides fresh fruits and vegetables as well as providing environmental benefits associated with cleaner water and air.
There are obviously restrictions and requirements that must be met, but anyone who has a farm that is in active agricultural use and concerned about staying afloat should check this option out. Those desiring additional information or an application should contact the Lycoming County Conservation District at (570) 433-3003. The office is located at 542 County Farm Road, Suite 202, Montoursville, PA 17754.