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Preservation likely to fall on economy

December 20, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. -- Five Franklin County farms comprising 567 acres recently were approved for inclusion in Pennsylvania's Farmland Preservation Program, but reduced funding in 2009 could mean less land will be permanently set aside for agriculture.

Since the inception of the program in the early 1990s, 115 farms with 15,092 acres of prime soils have been preserved, said Sherri Clayton, a senior planner with the county's Planning Department. In 2008, the development rights on 26 farms were purchased for a total of $7.6 million in state, county and municipal funds, she said.

However, the county budgeted $1.8 million for farmland preservation this year, Planning Director Phil Tarquino said. The county also had $1.3 million in state funds, a combination of grants as well as matching funds based on a formula that includes how much individual counties budget to purchase development rights, he said.

For 2009, the county has budgeted just $135,000 for farmland preservation, Tarquino said. In 2005, the county approved a bond issue that included $5 million to preserve farmland and that money has been spent, he said.

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Like many county governments, the county is faced with reduced state subsidies and cuts in funding to a number of programs. The state could cut farmland preservation funding in the 2009-10 budget.

The state budgeted $33 million for farmland preservation in 2008-09, Tarquino said. A spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture said Thursday it is too early to tell how much state money will be available next year.

"We won't know the state numbers until about March 1," Tarquino said.

A year ago, Kevin Grove bought the 93-acre family farm from his father, who had applied to have the land preserved several years earlier. Kevin and his wife, Stacie, now are third-generation farmers, his grandfather having bought the Greene Township property in 1947.

"I've got three kids, so hopefully one of them will be interested in agriculture," said Grove, who, between raising beef cattle and crops, also teaches diesel mechanics at the Franklin County Career and Technology Center.

"It makes for a long day ... but it's definitely very rewarding," Grove said.

Most of the money to purchase the development rights on the Rocky Grove Farm -- $200,000 -- came from Greene Township, Clayton said. The state and county each chipped in with more than $13,000, she said.

"That was basically my way to get into the farming operation," Grove said of the money. "Without it, I don't know if we could have swung it."

Much of the cash for the final five purchases of 2008 came from leftover state funds, which have to be spent within two years of being received, Clayton said.

Four other farms were approved for purchase by the state board on Dec. 11:

o Douglas McCulloh, Montgomery Township, a 158-acre dairy and field crop operation, $318,262 in state funding and $75,000 in county funds.

o Virgil and Evelyn Crider, St. Thomas Township, a 116-acre heifer and crop operation, $289,144 in state funds.

o Lois Heinbaugh, Montgomery Township, a 100-acre crop operation, $225,952 in state funds.

o Bryan Kyle, Lurgan Township, a 100-acre cattle and crop operation, $202,212 in state funds.

Kyle's farm was the first one in Lurgan Township entered into the program, Clayton said

While development in recent years has consumed thousands of acres of farmland across the county, more than 200,000 acres of land still are in agriculture, with farmers producing $292,840,000 in dairy, grain, cattle, poultry, fruit and other agricultural goods in 2007, according to the Penn State Extension Service.

The recession might mean less money for farmland preservation, but it also might, for a time, reduce the development pressure on farmers as fewer houses are being built.

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