The State of Delaware, armed with additional funds, wants more farms in its farmland preservation efforts and has extended the deadline for applications.
Since 1996, the Delaware AgLands Preservation Program has preserved 127,000 acres of the state’s 508,000 acres currently in agricultural production.
After a few years with reduced funding due to budget issues, the Delaware General Assembly set aside $10 million for the program.
“Delaware has the best farmland preservation program in the country. We have preserved 25 percent of our landmass in agriculture, but we have a lot more to go,” said Secretary of Agriculture Michael T. Scuse. “Farmland preservation is an important tool that guarantees land will be available for future generations so that we can continue to produce the agricultural commodities needed to feed Delawareans and our neighbors.”
The program is not without critics who claim that the program ends up preserving marginal farmland, with prime tracts still available for development. Delaware continues to see pressures as population growth continues in prime farming areas such as southern New Castle County and swaths of Kent and Sussex County.
Recent declines in commodity prices could also lead more farmers to consider selling to developers.
The Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation voted to extended district enrollment until December 31, to any agricultural landowners who want to preserve their farms and still have the opportunity to submit an application for the upcoming round. Farms must be enrolled in a preservation district before the landowner can sell an easement.
According to the Delaware AgLands Preservation Program, there are currently 300 farms participating in the 10-year voluntary preservation districts eligible to sell their development rights during Round 23. Those farms comprise an additional 46,000 acres that could be permanently preserved.
Typically, landowners are eligible to submit a bid to sell their farm’s development rights the year after they enroll their farm into a district agreement. District applications for the upcoming year would usually have closed on December 31, 2017; however, foundation members were concerned that landowners might not have applied by the deadline fearing uncertainty for this year’s budget, so the deadline was extended to December 31, 2018.
The Foundation approves all applications, using an impartial discounted ranking system that maximizes benefits for the taxpayer. The Foundation does not own the land, but rather purchases landowners’ development rights and has a permanent agricultural conservation easement placed on the property.
The Foundation’s Board of Trustees includes representatives from agriculture and state agencies. Trustees are: Bob Garey, chairman; Bill Vanderwende, vice-chairman; L. Allen Messick Jr., treasurer; William H. “Chip” Narvel Jr., secretary; Secretary of Agriculture Michael Scuse; State Treasurer Ken Simpler; Secretary of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Shawn Garvin; Peter Martin; Theodore P. Bobola Jr.; Robert Emerson; and Janice Truitt.