Gov. John Carney recently announced that more than 134,000 acres of Delaware farmland are now permanently preserved for future generations.
This is the 23rd consecutive year of easement selections by the Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation. Many of the farms in this round would not have been preserved without matching funds from multiple sources, including the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, the U.S. Navy’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program, Sussex County Council, New Castle County Council and Kent County Levy Court.
“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 No. 1 industry,” said Carney. “I am proud to announce the largest round of Delaware farms permanently preserved through the Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Program 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.”
In this round of easement selections, there were 66 farms in Sussex County, 39 in Kent County and six in New Castle County preserved.
“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 in Kent County,” said Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Michael T. Scuse. Along with crediting the partners who provided funding for this round, he recognized the contributions of the landowners. “Over the life of the program, landowners have donated, on average, 58 percent of their development rights value – that is, they received 42 cents on the dollar of their farm’s development rights value to preserve their farm. The average discount (donation) for Round 23 is 66 percent. This is a great investment not only for agriculture but all Delawareans.”
The Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation selects farms approved for easement purchase using an impartial discounted ranking system that maximizes benefits for taxpayers. The foundation does not own the land, but rather 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 over 134,000 acres in permanent easements, Delaware’s Aglands Preservation Program has over 174,000 acres of land enrolled in farmland preservation districts.
County governments can choose to partner with the state program and add county funds to select properties in their areas, leveraging state resources for the greatest impact. In the latest round, all three Delaware county governments working together provided nearly $2 million to help purchase easements in their own counties, for the first time in 11 years.
“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 Todd F. Lawson, Sussex County administrator. “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.”
Delaware's statewide program made its first round of easement purchases in 1996, and has since preserved 18 percent of Sussex County farmland, 38 percent of Kent County farmland and 21 percent of New Castle County farmland.
The foundation’s board of trustees includes representatives from agriculture and state agencies. Trustees are Bob Garey, chair; Bill Vanderwende, vice chair; L. Allen Messick Jr., treasurer; William H. “Chip” Narvel Jr., secretary; Secretary of Agriculture Michael T. Scuse; State Treasurer Colleen C. Davis; Secretary of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Shawn Garvin; Peter Martin; Theodore P. Bobola Jr.; Robert Emerson; and Janice Truitt.