Warren County Agricultural Land Preservation Board Purchases First Easement

Protecting Warren County Farmland One Farm at a Time

According to Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture statistics, Pennsylvania loses an average of 209 acres of fields, farmland and open space each day to a more developed use. In 2005, the Warren County Commissioners established the Warren County Agricultural Land Preservation Board in order to join statewide efforts to preserve the state’s best, most productive agricultural soils. The Board was charged with establishing local criteria for selecting our own local exceptional quality soils most at risk for development, using statewide guidelines. In December 2008, the Board made local history by partnering with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to purchase an agricultural easement (development rights) on 151 acres of farmland in Pine Grove Township belonging to Mr. Peter Block.

Pennsylvania leads the nation in farmland preservation. In 1987 a statewide voter referendum overwhelmingly won public support for this vital undertaking. Since 1987 over 400,000 acres of productive farmland have been protected, representing an investment of more than $1 billion.  Today funds are generated from the cigarette tax, from landfill tipping fees and as a part of the Growing Greener initiatives approved by voters.  A relatively small percentage of county monies are needed to generate the state funding used in purchasing the acreage.

It took almost 20 years to establish the Ag Land Preservation Board in Warren County, Pennsylvania and many citizens may still wonder why protecting farmland is important in our corner of the world. In Warren County, everywhere we look we see old farms, empty fields and endless forest land, in addition to areas of active farming. The key to understanding this paradox is SOILS. Only a small percentage of soils are considered prime agricultural soils. In Warren County we do have our share of these soils, but it is important to note that a high percentage of these soils lie underneath our communities, under Kinzua Dam and along our developed river corridors. Due to the circumstances of their formation and their subsequent location, the best agricultural soils are also the most suitable for all manner of human enterprise. It is only by planning today to preserve certain of these remaining areas as a food producing resource for future generations that we can hope to assure the availability of local food for our children and their children. Forward thinking communities across the Commonwealth are taking steps now to protect their best soils because a community without access to good soil for food production is at risk if outside sources of food are compromised for any reason.

How was Pete Block’s farm chosen for the easement?  After local criteria were established by the Board, word went out to county farmers that applications were being taken to purchase development rights on productive acreage.  It was explained that once the rights are purchased, the land would be preserved from development in perpetuity.  It was explained that an annual inspection would enforce the rule that no unallowable development could take place and that a soil conservation plan must be followed to ensure that the soils remain productive.  Pete Block stepped forward along with several others.  The properties were evaluated according to the established criteria and Pete’s property scored the highest.  Pete says that he is “happy to be the first farm chosen in Warren County.”

In selecting Pete’s farm, the board also chose an exceptional local farmer.  On his farm in Pine Grove Township, Pete raises certified seed oats and certified Reed Canarygrass seed, providing a rare source of local seed for area farmers.  He also raises Holstein replacement heifers and corn for local dairy producers.  Pete says he “is happy to participate” in a program that will make his land affordable and accessible to young people to farm in the future.

The Agricultural Land Preservation Board has now purchased an easement for a second farm in Warren County, Pennsylvania.  The Board welcomes all interested farmers to learn about the program and, if conditions seem favorable, to enter their land into the pool of farms seeking protection.  Each farm will be evaluated, ranked and considerd for easement purchase as funds become available.  Due to budget constraints within the County and Commonwealth, there is no funding available at this time.  Please contact your elected officials for additional information.