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More Franklin Co. farmland up for preservation

June 21, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - As some farms have been sprouting houses instead of corn in recent years, Joel Wenger said he wants to see his land remain in agriculture.

"I just don't like to see all this development come in and crowd the farmers out," said Wenger, who is selling the development rights on a parcel of approximately 48 acres in Quincy Township to the state and county.

As a member of the Antrim Township Planning Commission, Wenger said he was used to seeing three or four lots at a time submitted for review, but "now whole farms are coming in."

Wenger's property is one of four applications for Franklin County farms totaling about 836 acres presented earlier this month to the Pennsylvania State Agricultural Land Preservation Board. One of the properties, 176 acres belonging to Tracey's Orchard in Antrim Township, previously had been announced as a candidate for preservation, said Sherri Clayton, a senior planner with the county Planning Office.

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Along with Tracey's Orchard and the Wenger property, the county also submitted applications for 86 acres belonging to Aldus Eby in Guilford Township, and a 526-acre dairy farm in St. Thomas Township belonging to Meyers Brothers Dairy, Clayton said.

The development rights are determined by appraising the farmland's value for agriculture and what it would be worth if sold for development. The property owners will receive a total of more than $1.6 million for the development rights on the four properties, or an average of $1,986 per acre, Clayton said.

With the preservation of the four farms, the county and state jointly have purchased easements on 62 farms totaling 8,714 acres, according to a statement by County Commissioner G. Warren Elliott, who serves on the State Agricultural Land Preservation Board. Elliott said earlier this year the goal for 2006 is to bring the total of preserved acreage to more than 10,000.

"You have to have a certain amount of farmland to preserve the infrastructure for farmers," Wenger said. That includes the feed companies, farm equipment dealers and other businesses that farmers need to stay in business, he said.

Wenger said he has two other parcels in the preservation program, including property that has been in his family since the beginning of the 20th century. The Quincy Township property, which is adjacent to another preserved farm, has been owned by his family since 1978, he said.

The quality of soils and the viability of the farming operation are two criteria the preservation board looks at when considering an application to preserve a farm, Clayton said. Its proximity to development and the potential to cluster a property with other preserved farms also are part of the equation, she said.

Franklin County ranks 10th in preserved farmland among the 53 Pennsylvania counties that participate in the program, Elliott said.

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