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Williamsport farm selling preservation easement

August 15, 2006|by ARNOLD S. PLATOU

WILLIAMSPORT - A local farming family is doing its best to help agriculture stay a part of Washington County's future forever.

Dairy farmer Harry Strite said Monday afternoon that he and his father, Ellis, and their families have agreed to sell Maryland an easement on their Kemps Mill Road farm under the state's farmland preservation program.

"The main reason is, we see farmland disappearing at a rapid rate and if somebody doesn't do something, we're not going to have any farmland for the next generation ... whether it's our family or somebody else," Strite said during a break from milking his herd.

The state Board of Public Works offered last week to buy an easement on the Strites' 191 acres for about $500,000.

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The other area farm the board wants to buy a preservation easement on is a 103-acre farm in Frederick County, Md., owned by Edward Boyce and others, according to the board's meeting agenda. It shows the board was to offer nearly $900,000 for that easement.

These are among the $24.8 million in offers the state board authorized to obtain easements on a total of 5,095 acres of farmland in 16 counties, Gov. Robert Ehrlich said in an announcement last week.

This includes $1.9 million for easements on a total of 543 acres of farmland in Washington, Frederick and Garrett counties, said Ehrlich, one of the board's three members.

In Garrett, the state is offering to buy easements on two farms, totaling 250 acres, state Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Kate Wagner said Monday. She said no offers are being made in Allegany County this time.

Under the state's program, the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation buys easements that forever restrict development on prime farmland and woodland.

Each county contributes money to help buy the easements. Each county also has a program administrator and an advisory board, which approves and ranks easement applications.

If all of the latest preservation offers are accepted, the ag department said in a news release, a total of 33,181 acres of Western Maryland farmland would be protected by the foundation.

In all then, it will have preserved 247,917 acres of farmland throughout the state.

"This is the greatest ratio of farmland preserved to total land mass by any state," the ag department said.

Ehrlich said the achievement is particularly significant because it comes "in the face of some of the greatest development pressure and highest land prices in the nation."

He said the state has budgeted $120 million to preserve as many as 30,000 acres of additional farmland in the next two budget years. This goal incudes last week's offers on the 5,095 acres.

"We are entering a historic cycle of agricultural land preservation that will help farmers stay on the land and remain profitable," Ehrlich said.

Strite, whose farm is in an area behind Snug Harbor Campground, said his father began the farm 50 years ago, come this April.

He said he's distressed at the rate that developers are moving into the county.

"It's just pushing the farmers out. It's getting harder and harder for the young guys" who want to stay in farming, he said.

Maryland's farmland preservation program offers farmers a way to help, Strite said.

"We feel this is a way to keep farming going for the future," he said.

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