The program began in 1989 after voters passed a $100 million state referendum to begin preserving the state's best and most threatened farmlands.
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's preservation grant to the county is $521,666 this year. That will be combined with $115,000 from the county to buy the development rights on qualifying farms.
"It's the first time in county history we're spending more to preserve than develop," Elliott said. The county contribution to the Franklin County Area Development Corporation this year is $90,000, he said.
"I think we're tilting in the other direction and I think we need to," he said.
The program has resulted in the purchase of development rights to 2,386 acres on 16 farms. The state and county spent more than $3.2 million to buy those rights.
Four of those farms were added in 1997, said Linda Golden, one of nine members of the county's preservation board.
Franklin County Senior Planner Sherri Clayton said there's a waiting list of 60 farmers who want their land included in the program.
"The issue of farmland preservation has been addressed much more vigorously in the past two years," Golden said. She said the size of the state grant depends on the match budgeted by each county.
"Franklin County is second in agriculture in Pennsylvania. I don't think a lot of people know that," she said. The county has about 1,400 farms, according to county figures.
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania's top agriculture county, has spent more than $29 million to preserve 16,315 acres on 173 farms over nine years, according to state figures.
This year the state will give $28 million to 44 of the 67 counties for farmland preservation.
Elliott said $83,000 of the state grant came from funds redistributed from other counties that did not participate in the program.
To be eligible for preservation, the land has to be of good quality and under pressure for development, usually because of its proximity to a growing community.
The cost of development rights is based on the difference between the land's value for agriculture and its estimated value if sold for development, Elliott said. In Franklin County, that averages $1,350 an acre.
John Koons of Waynesboro, Pa., was the first county farmer to sell his development rights. He said Tuesday his main reason was so he could pass the land on to his sons.
"I hate to see these farms go into houses," but farmers can't compete with the prices developers can offer for land, he said.