Delaware reached a milestone in permanently preserving 151,257 acres of farmland. Four farms in New Castle County, 16 in Kent County, and 40 in Sussex County were preserved in the most recent round.
The Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation selects those farms approved for easement purchase using a discounted ranking system. The foundation does not own the land but 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 and are eligible for permanent preservation the year after they apply.
Various requirements help to answer concerns that landowners are applying for the designation by offering marginal farmland.
In addition to more than 151,000 acres in permanent easements, Delaware’s Aglands Preservation Program has more than 45,500 acres of land enrolled in 10-year farmland preservation districts. Delaware has a total of 1.3 million acres.
In addition to state funding, other partners including county government funds and federal partners from the departments of Agriculture and Defense.
“Sussex County is proud once again to join in protecting farms and preserving our great agricultural heritage by taking part in the Delaware Aglands Program,” Sussex County Administrator Todd F. Lawson said. “Ag is the No. 1 industry in Sussex County, and it’s important now, more than ever, with a growing population and increased pressure on the agriculture industry, that we work hard to keep ag as the centerpiece to Delaware’s economy. The County Council’s contribution to Round 27, totaling nearly $1 million, is the most ever, and it’s the boldest statement yet of the County’s unwavering commitment to ensuring agriculture remains a part of the landscape for generations to come.”
Sussex is one of the region’s fastest-growing areas with individuals reporting that development is so widespread that aerial views show it has changed the landscape of the county.
Development has also swallowed up prime farmland in southern New Castle County, thanks to development in sprawl in the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend area.
Preserving farmland protects Delaware’s agriculture heritage and its number one industry. That’s why we allocated $20 million in last year’s budget to help preserve farms from the ground up,” said Gov. John Carney. “This year’s process was very competitive. After a review of 121 offers submitted, the foundation selected 60 farms encompassing 5,353 acres to purchase the development rights, with an average discount rate of 47%, up 3% from the last round. I want to thank the Aglands team at the Department of Agriculture, the members of the General Assembly, and all who work to preserve this important part of Delaware’s history and economy.”
County governments provided over $1.6 million to help purchase 22 easements in the most recent round.
The Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation Easements are available for viewing through an online dashboard at https://de.gov/agdashboard.
At their last meeting, the Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation voted to extend district enrollment until October 31 to any agricultural landowners who want to preserve their farms. These landowners will have the opportunity to apply for Round 28 in 2024. Before the landowner can submit a bid to sell an easement, the farm must be enrolled in a preservation district.
Farms must meet the following eligibility requirements:
• Property must be zoned for agriculture and not subject to any major subdivision plan.
• The property meets the minimum Land Evaluation and Site Assessment (LESA) score of 170. LESA is a process that attempts to estimate the farm’s long-term viability based on the farm’s soil productivity, land use, and agriculture infrastructure on and around the farm. Scores range from 0-300. Aglands program staff calculate the score when applications are received.
•The property must be working farmland with at least $1,000 in agricultural sales annually and generally have at least 10 acres of cropland.
• Farms of 200 acres or more constitute an agricultural district.
• Farms under 200 acres can enter the program if it is within three miles of an existing agricultural district. With 1,212 farms already preserved, rarely does a farm under 200 acres fail meet these criteria.
Entirely forested properties in managed timber production can also enroll in the Forestland Preservation Program, which purchases Forestland Preservation Easements similar to Aglands Preservation.
Pressure on forests has been in the news with the state opposed to plans by a developer to build a subdivsion next to a state forest in Sussex County According to the Delaware Forest Service , protecting the community from fire would require the state to cut down trees in providing a buffer. The developer claims the forest area is marginal.
In Kent County, Levy Court has placed restrictions on large solar farms over concerns that the arrays will gobble up farmland and Sussex recently denied a solar application.
For more information or to obtain applications related to the Delaware Aglands Preservation Program, interested landowners can visit https://de.gov/aglands.