|Posted:||March 30, 2022 11:35 AM|
|From:||Senator Doug Mastriano|
|To:||All Senate members|
|Subject:||Preserving Pennsylvania's Farmland|
|In the near future, I will be introducing legislation to expand Pennsylvania’s successful Agriculture Conservation Easement Purchase Program.
An abundance of agricultural land is crucial to maintaining food security and protecting against supply chain instability for the commonwealth and our nation.
According to the PA Department of Agriculture, the crucial agricultural industry provides a $135.7 billion annual economic impact and represents close to 18% of Pennsylvania’s gross state product. It also employs and supports nearly 580,000 people with combined wages of $27 billion.
Pennsylvania’s agricultural land provides scenic images of rural life landscaped across fertile valleys of surrounding hills and mountains. These open spaces are a beautiful backdrop and draw thousands to our state to spend money in Pennsylvania’s growing agritourism business.
In recent years, more and more prime farmland has been lost to development. According to Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, the number of acres of farmland in Pennsylvania fell by 6% (7.3 million acres) between 2012 and 2017. The number of farms dropped by 10% (53,157) over that same period.
Pennsylvania’s successful Agriculture Conservation Easement Purchase Program has been a nationwide model for farmland preservation. Under the easement program, 58 participating county programs receive state funds for the purchase of agricultural conservation easements. An agricultural conservation easement is a legal restriction that limits the use of the property to agricultural purposes and the landowner is financially compensated for the sale of the easement.
Since 1988, the program has purchased permanent conservation easements on 5,979 Pennsylvania farms, covering 606,215 acres in 58 counties.
Due to the popularity of the program, annual applications far outnumber the amount of available funding.
My bill will increase dedicated annual funding by earmarking 25% of the realty transfer tax to go towards the easement program. This will equate to an average infusion of over $100 million additional annual funds for farmland preservation. Portions of the realty transfer fee are already dedicated to the Keystone Fund and the Pennsylvania Housing and Rehabilitation Enhancement (PHARE program) and I believe that the easement purchase program has proven itself worthy of also receiving dedicated funding.
My legislation will also expand the eligibility of farms by reducing the minimum subdivision size for preserved farmland from 50 acres to 25 acres. Additionally, my bill will allow parcels less than 10 acres that are adjacent to preserved land or used to produce crops unique to the area to be eligible for the easement program.
I hope you will join me as a co-sponsor.
Introduced as SB1232