Preserving farmland equals 2020 vision
Let’s start 2020 on a high note by reminding ourselves that in 2019, Delaware made its largest-ever purchase of development rights from the state’s farmers. Purchasing those development rights means that the affected land will be permanently preserved for agriculture.
The purchase of easements on 111 farms added 9,382 acres to the total acreage preserved since the Aglands Preservation Program started in 1996. This is the 23rd consecutive year that our state government led the way on the preservation effort. In all, the state has now permanently preserved 25 percent - 134,000 acres - of its more than 400,000 acres of farmland.
In classic Delaware fashion, the state has leveraged the millions it has committed by partnering with federal and county governments as well as private conservation organizations to bring additional millions to the table.
In 2019 alone, Sussex, Kent and New Castle counties added $2 million to the $10 million committed by the state, along with other funds available through federal programs. In Sussex, 66 farms were permanently preserved in this year alone. The $1 million committed by Sussex government preserved eight of those farms, 726 acres.
In addition to the 134,000 acres now preserved for agriculture, there are another 174,000 acres in temporary Farmland Preservation Districts, where owners have to place their land before it can eventually be eligible for sale into the permanent program. That means there are farms ready to go as funds become available.
Those funds can come from unexpected places such as the U.S. Navy, which has provided funds to preserve farmland – particularly in southwestern Sussex – situated below fly zones for naval flight training out of bases west of the Chesapeake Bay.
Delaware is blessed with excellent farmland, excellent farmers, a steady water supply, strategic proximity to the mid-Atlantic megalopolis which assures a strong market, and a government that recognizes and supports all these assets. Agriculture continues as the state’s No. 1 industry, and there’s no more cost-effective way of protecting open space than through Delaware’s Aglands Preservation Program.
We look forward to publishing more articles about conservation easements purchased in 2020.