Counties team with Delaware ag program to preserve more farmland

GEORGETOWN — Sussex County is applying some financial fertilizer to help keep more southern Delaware farms growing.

County officials at the Tuesday county council meeting announced Sussex will again join the latest round of easement purchases through the Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Program, a state-led initiative to protect working farms and keep agriculture viable amid a changing economic and cultural landscape.

Statewide the Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation trumpeted the largest ever round of easement purchases — 111 farms with a total of 9,382 acres.

This brings the grand total of acres under the program in the state to about 134,000. In this round of easement selections, there were six farms in New Castle County, 39 in Kent County and 66 in Sussex County preserved.

Delaware officials announced the latest round results Monday at T.S. Smith & Sons farm property in Bridgeville. T.S. Smith & Sons is among the farms in the preservation statewide program.

Sussex County will contribute $1 million as its share in the nearly $2.1 million price tag to protect eight farms and more than 725 acres in Sussex.

Bundling the hay.

In addition to the county’s contribution, which comes from county reserves, the program will utilize funding from the state and federal governments to make the easement purchases.

Property owners will retain ownership of their lands but will forgo any rights to subdivide and develop the parcels in the future.

This is the second consecutive year that Sussex County has participated in Delaware’s farmland preservation program, and follows other joint efforts dating back to 2003. Since then, the County has contributed more than $3 million to protect more than 3,500 acres in Sussex.

Sussex County Council President Michael H. Vincent said the county is following through on commitments made in the budget, as well as the recently state-certified comprehensive plan.

“The county believes protecting our No. 1 industry is critical to ensuring Sussex County’s continued economic vitality and enhanced quality of life,” Mr. Vincent said. “We are proud to sow the seeds of preservation today, so future generations can reap the rewards tomorrow.”

Delaware’s statewide program made its first round of easement purchases in 1996, and has since preserved 21 percent of New Castle County farmland, 38 percent of Kent County farmland and 18 percent of Sussex County farmland.

“We are very grateful to Gov. Carney and the General Assembly for placing high priority on Agland 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.”

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