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Ag land funding in Maryland might rise

February 07, 2006

ANNAPOLIS - Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. has included an $84.6 million appropriation in his budget for the purchase of permanent agricultural preservation easements on farmland, a state official said.

The funding, if approved by the General Assembly, would be a "dramatic increase from previous years and could allow the purchase of as many as 185 new easements," the state Department of Agriculture said in a news release.

"This is a very strong opportunity for farmers who want to keep their land in agriculture forever to consider selling an easement to the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation," said Agriculture Secretary Lewis R. Riley.

If approved, the ag land preservation budget will "more than double the 25-year, 10,000 acres-per-year average and increase the average price paid for easements," Riley said. "Well-managed farmland is more beneficial to the environment than developed land, so preserving working lands is a very positive investment in the environment, our economy and our quality of life."

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Meetings are being scheduled in each county to let landowners know about the funding situation, changes in ranking systems, trends in easement and acquisition values, and to answer any questions, the MDA said.

In Washington County, the meeting is to begin at 3 p.m. March 21 during the County Commissioners' session, MDA said. It didn't list a date for Frederick County, but said others are being scheduled.

The state Agricultural Land Preservation program, in its 25th year of buying easements, has permanently preserved 242,821 acres of farmland, with land preserved in each of the 23 counties, MDA said.

"This is the greatest ratio of farmland preserved to total land mass by any state. Together with other state and local agricultural preservation programs, more than 420,000 acres of farmland are protected in the state," MDA said.

In the past three years, the agency said, the state has approved 200 easements protecting 25,362 acres of prime farmland.

For more information about the program or the meetings, log onto www.mda.state.md.us or call the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation office at 1-410-841-5860.

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