Ag Preservation program reaches grand milestone

BRIDGEVILLE — Round 23 of Delaware’s Agricultural Lands Preservation Program brings with it some milestones, and one that is grand.

“Once Round 23 is completed, the Ag Lands Preservation Program will have over 1,000 permanently preserved farms totaling more than 134,000 acres,” Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Michael T. Scuse said Monday.

Gov. John Carey joined county, state and federal representatives Monday at T.S. Smith & Sons’ pavilion property on the four-generation family farm in Bridgeville to highlight the ag lands pro-gram.

“In terms of our objective of making and keeping Delaware agriculture as Delaware’s No. 1 industry, there are really two big tools,” said Gov. Carney. “One is to help make farmers and farming more prof-itable.

“And then, this tool – ag land preservation. I’m really excited to be here to be here today with all of you.”
Delaware’s Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation selects farms approved for easement purchas-ing utilizing an impartial discounted ranking system which maximizes benefits for taxpayers.

In this program, the foundation does not own the land, but purchases landowners’ development rights and places a permanent agricultural conservation easement on the property.
Landowners must first voluntarily enroll their farm into a 10-year preservation district before they can sell an easement.

In addition to more than 134,000 acres in permanent easements, the Ag Lands Preservation Program has more than 174,000 acres of land enrolled in farmland preservation districts.
The current state budget included $10 million for the Ag Lands Preservation Program, and another $10 million is proposed in the FY2020 budget, Gov. Carney said.

“Since the start of my administration I have placed a high priority on preserving Delaware’s farmland so that agriculture will continue to be our state’s number one industry,” said Gov. Carney.
Round 23 marked the largest round of Delaware farms permanently preserved in the history of the program.
“With the purchase of the development rights of 111 farms totaling 9,382 acres we have successfully preserved 25 percent of Delaware’s farmland,” Gov. Carney said.

The program is a collaborative effort, including matching funds from numerous sources. That list in-cludes USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, Sussex County Council, Kent County Levy Court, New Castle County Levy Court as well as federal sup-port from the U.S. Navy’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program.

“Why is the Navy in Delaware?” said U.S. Navy Capt. Geoffrey Moore, Naval District Washington’s Chief of Staff.
The Naval Air Station Patuxent River, commonly known as NAS Pax River, is in St. Mary’s County, Maryland on the Chesapeake Bay near the mouth of the Patuxent River. Critical naval flight activities occur in the Atlantic Test Range.

“Their training range, the land that they fly over not only is the Chesapeake Bay but the surrounding land that encompasses part of southwest Delaware,” said Capt. Moore. “So, it’s incredibly important for us to prevent encroachment and find compatible land uses that allow us to do our mission. Farming and agricultural usage is exactly compatible. This unique partnership over the years has protected the state’s landscapes that are critical to our environment and quality of life while maintaining security of our airspace.”

To date, the Navy has partnered with Delaware on three parcels with hopes to partner on additional parcels over the next few years.
Gov. Carney noted the U.S. Navy’s REPIP will secure an additional $5.5 million of federal funds to assist with the purchase of the easements. He also applauded Delaware’s three counties.

“Our county governments have been tremendous partners in all of that. We thank you for your com-mitment to this really important program,” said Gov. Carney.
Sussex County has pledged another $1 million to the program in the FY2020 budget that was recently adopted by county council.
“Sussex County is demonstrating once again its support for Delaware’s agriculture industry and its commitment to protecting open space and an enhanced quality of life,” said Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson.

“With this latest round, eight more farms totaling 726 acres will be preserved and remain in production.
“As someone whose family has been rooted in agriculture for generations, I’m incredibly proud to be part of a collective effort that helps keep our economy strong and ensures a piece of the county’s agrarian history remains visible and viable for many years to come.”

“We’re going to keep on doing this. We are largest the agricultural county. How could we not partici-pate?” said Michael Vincent, Sussex County Council president. “I think this county council, as previous county councils, is very committed to preserving farmland. Farmland is what we are all about in Sussex County. We have tourists. We understand that. They go to the beach. That’s great. But we are agricul-ture; we are farmland.”

“We are very grateful to Gov. Carney and the General Assembly for placing high priority on Ag Land Preservation in Delaware,” said Kent County Administrator Mike Petit de Mange.
“Kent County is very pleased to partner with the state and our farming community once again to permanently preserve an additional 1,107 acres of working farmlands in Central Delaware.”

Deputy Agriculture Secretary. Austin Short touched on the roots of the Ag Lands Preservation Program.
“Certainly, money is an important part. We all know that,” Mr.. Short said. “But time and time again, the main reason farmers and landowners preserve that land is that their family has been there in many cases for generations, sometimes over a century, like the Smiths. They want to know that land is going to be preserved forever and farmed forever.”

Secretary Scuse noted some other milestones.
“With today’s announcement we preserved our 100th farm in New Castle County and our 400th farm in Sussex and will have almost 500 farms (496) in Kent County,” Sec. Scuse said.

Since its first round of easement purchases in 1996, Delaware’s statewide program has preserved 38 percent of Kent County farmland, 21 percent of New Castle County farmland and 18 percent of farm-land in Sussex County.
“This is really big day for Delaware, for our No. 1 industry, for our farm families and our agricultural her-itage and for the future of our state,” said Gov. Carney.

Among the elected officials on hand was state Sen. Dave Wilson, a huge supporter of agriculture and agricultural land preservation as a state representative and now a senator.
“There were some lean years here in Delaware and some budget issues.

There is one legislator, and I hate to single out anybody because they are all important, but there is one legislator that year in and year out when the budget was really tough, fought tooth and nail to make sure that this program con-tinued to be funded, even if it was only for a couple million dollars,” said Secretary Scuse.

“I think that there were a couple years that if Dave hadn’t of fought, this program may not have been funded. He is tenacious.”

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