Quarter of Delaware farmland protected
BRIDGEVILLE, Del. — At a press conference June 24 at T.S. Smith & Sons’ picnic pavilion, Gov. John Carney announced that the 23rd round of easement selections by the Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation was the largest yet in the number of farms permanently preserved.
“With the purchase of the development rights of 111 farms totaling 9,382 acres, we have successfully preserved 25 percent of Delaware’s farmland,” Carney said.
The total of land preserved is 134,000 acres on more than 1,000 farms.
The 23rd round was also the third highest in number of acres preserved, including, for the first time in nine years, 150 acres of forestland.
Carney added, “Since the start of my administration, I have placed a high priority on preserving Delaware’s farmland so that agriculture will continue to be our state’s No. 1 industry.”
Austin Short, deputy agriculture secretary, said, “This is a round worth celebrating.” He added, “We could not do it without the support of the governor and the legislature.” This year’s budget allotted $10 million for the agland preservation program, and another $10 million is proposed in the FY2020 budget.
In this round of easement selections, there were six farms preserved in New Castle County, 39 in Kent County, and 66 in Sussex County.
Delaware Agriculture Secretary Michael Scuse said with the current easement selections, “We have preserved our 100th farm in New Castle County and our 400th farm in Sussex and will have almost 500 farms (496) in Kent County.”
Scuse said Delaware is a national leader in agland preservation, second only after California.
Among the partners for Round 23 was the U.S. Navy. Capt. Geoffrey Moore, Naval District Washington’s Chief of Staff, explained to those surprised to see a Naval officer in attendance, that preserving working farms not only protects the state’s landscapes that are critical to our environment and quality of life, but maintains the security of our airspace and the ability to perform critical naval flight activities in the Atlantic Test Range. To date, the Navy has partnered with Delaware on three parcels and hopes to partner on additional parcels over the next few years. Four parcels in the southwest corner of the state were included in Round 23.
Other partners included the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, Sussex and New Castle county councils and Kent County Levy Court. Collectively, the county governments provided nearly two million dollars.
Scuse recognized the contributions of the landowners. “Over the life of the program, landowners have donated, on average, 58 percent of their development rights value — that is, they received 42 cents on the dollar of their farm’s development rights value to preserve their farm. The average discount (donation) for Round 23 is 66 percent. This is a great investment not only for agriculture but all Delawareans.”
Material distributed to the press explained that “development rights value” is a farm’s full market value less its agricultural-only value, that is, the value of the farm if it can only be used for agriculture.
“Easements are selected for purchase based solely on the percentage discount offered by the landowner. Each landowner submits a confidential bid (discount percentage) to the Foundation’s attorney. The bids are then ranked from the highest to the lowest, and properties are selected until the funds are expended — essentially a reverse-auction process. The highest bids are typically around a 70 to 75 percent discount. During a typical year, at least 125 farms are appraised and at least 75 landowners usually submit bids.”
The average statewide cost per acre is $1,754.
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