Sussex gets back in business of farmland preservation

Since 2003, farmers have sold easements on more than 2,800 acres
June 12, 2018

After more than a decade of not participating, Sussex County officials have contributed funds to the latest round of the Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Program.

Sussex County will contribute more than $536,000 as its share of the $1.3 million price tag to protect 10 farms and 780 acres in the county.

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 10 easement purchases. Property owners will retain ownership of their lands, but will forgo any rights to develop the parcels in the future.

Since 2003, the county has contributed $2.1 million to protect more than 2,800 acres of farmland. In Sussex, estimated easement purchase prices during this round range from $54,000 for a 34-acre parcel to nearly $324,000 for a 98-acre parcel.

“We have heard from our constituents and the ag community, particularly during our comprehensive planning process, that we need to do more to keep agriculture healthy in Sussex County,” said Council President Mike Vincent.

In Kent County, more than 1,200 acres on 30 farms were preserved in the 22nd year of the program.

More than 127,000 acres of Delaware farmland are now permanently preserved.

The foundation selects farms approved for easement purchase using an impartial discounted ranking system. 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 127,000 acres in permanent easements, the program has more than 45,000 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.

Delaware's statewide program made its first round of easement purchases in 1996, and has since preserved 22 percent of New Castle County farmland, 38 percent of Kent County farmland and 16 percent of Sussex County farmland.