Under the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Program, Washington County accounts for about 3.6 percent of the state's total 128,000 acres of easements, said Iva Frantz, administrative officer of the 20-year-old Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation.
"They're not the low man on the totem pole, but they're not up there either," said Frantz, who said the majority of farmland is concentrated in central Maryland.
Landowners had to apply to preserve their land under the state program by July 1.
Independent appraisers and state Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation staff then subtracted the land's agricultural value from its fair market value to determine how much the state would offer to pay landowners for each easement.
The 19 contracts total more than $2.6 million and would be funded by a state agricultural land transfer tax and Maryland's share of Program Open Space money.
"Actually, this is a good year, because we usually approve 50 to 60 contracts a year. But a federal grant of $1 million will help pay for more easements than usual," Frantz said.
The Board of Public Works has approved only the first batch of 84 applicants.
Farmers who are wary of entering into a permanent agreement with the state have the option of becoming part of five-year or 10-year agricultural districts, in which they receive protection from nuisance complaints or tax credits, Eric Seifarth, farmland preservation administrator in the county Planning Commission, said.
He said a benefit of selling permanent development rights to the state is that it helps ensure future generations keep enough farmland available for an abundant food supply.
"The very heart of the whole issue is an economic one," he said. "Farms aren't there for a pretty picture, they're there to do a job and give the public a quality product."