Thanks to efforts over the last two decades, Delaware has now permanently preserved more than 100,000 acres of farmland, a milestone that protects a fifth of all agricultural land in the state, state agricultural officials have announced.
"Preserving agriculture is vital to our state's economy and growing jobs," said Gov. Jack Markell. "Keeping land in farming helps our environment and preserves open space, both of which are critical to the legacy we leave our children. This is a tremendous accomplishment that will pay off for years to come, and will keep Delaware number one in agricultural preservation."
Settlements this fiscal year have brought the total acreage in permanent protection under the Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation to 105,558 acres in all three counties. That represents a significant accomplishment for the state's preservation program, which began in 1991 as a way to keep disappearing farmland in agriculture.
"Delaware farmland is more than just a major engine of our economy," said Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee. "It is our heritage and the centerpiece of our way of life. Keeping farmland active and in use ensures that future generations have the opportunity to enjoy and appreciate agriculture. Each acre saved is worth a celebration."
The voluntary preservation program leverages state, local and federal contributions to purchase landowners' development rights and have a permanent agricultural conservation easement placed on the property. All purchases by the Foundation are done at discount, or 55 percent of the appraised value on average. The average farm size in the program is 153 acres, at an average cost of $1,781 per acre.
"This program is a Delaware success story," said Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation Chairman Robert Garey, a Felton-area farmer. "It keeps farms strong and healthy, and our land open and undeveloped. This would not have been possible without the support of so many people from around the entire state."
There are also 51,135 acres of farmland in preservation districts, voluntary agreements in which landowners agree to only use their land for agriculture for 10 years. Farmers must enroll in a preservation district before they can sell an easement.
"Reaching this milestone should be celebrated by all Delawareans," said Foundation Vice-Chairman William Vanderwende, a Bridgeville-area farmer. "These 100,000 acres will be valued by the grandchildren of generations not yet born."
Details of the current round of purchases are expected to be finalized in late 2012. More than 130 requests have been made for property appraisals in this round, up slightly over previous years.
"We are very pleased to mark this milestone," said Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Austin Short, who oversees the preservation program. "This initiative has proven its worth in helping make Delaware's agricultural industry profitable while supporting our quality of life."
The Foundation's Board of Trustees includes representatives from agriculture and state agencies. Trustees in addition to Garey, Vanderwende and Kee are L. Allen Messick Jr., treasurer; William H. "Chip" Narvel Jr., secretary; State Treasurer Chip Flowers; Secretary of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Collin O'Mara; Steven L. Ditmer; Theodore P. Bobola Jr.; and Robert Emerson.