In Defense of Land Conservation in Adams County
Posted: June 27, 2011
In the state of Pennsylvania, the amount of developed land is increasing at a rate more than ten times the growth rate of the population. As such, viable farmland is being transformed into malls, parking lots, housing developments, and highways with little thought to its previous agricultural utility. The conversion of agricultural land to urban development poses a huge threat to Adams County’s farming economy. The haphazard development patterns that are becoming more frequent represent a highly detrimental faction of urban planning, resulting in the fragmentation of agricultural land, the loss of farming operations that provide fresh produce, dairy, and meats to markets, and the destruction of vital open spaces. While building these urban centers can often prove profitable to a community, preserving farmland, rather than razing it down to build urban structures in its place, proves more economically beneficial, and less environmentally harmful to a community in the long-run.
In a strong effort to counter this trend in urbanization, the Land Conservancy of Adams County has made it their mission to permanently protect the rural lands and character of Adams County by preserving open space and areas of scenic, natural, agricultural, geological, and historic value. “By preserving our farmland, we are planning for future sustainability by protecting our valuable resources,” says Mark Clowney, a Land Conservancy Board Member. “We are in competition with urban development, but we are not completely against development. We simply want to preserve the best soils and most viable farmland so that the future of Adams County agriculture remains prosperous.”
The economic benefits of protecting farmland from development are numerous. Ellen Dayhoff, Director of the Adams County Agland Preservation Program, states that, “Agriculture and tourism are complementary industries in Adams County; they mesh together to support each other. They also happen to be the two most economically successful industries in Adams County. The open spaces of the agricultural lands buffer the Civil War Historic National Park and help to maintain a uniform landscape, one that bolsters tourism and allows for agriculture to prosper.” Additionally, the agriculture sector covers more than just farms. “The agriculture industry includes a myriad of support industries that are in this area because of the numerous farms,” says Ellen Dayhoff. Businesses like food processing plants, tractor manufacturers, and canning plants, to name a few, provide hundreds of employment opportunities that would be absent if not for the farming operations located in this area. The farms are merely the foundation of the agriculture sector. She continues, “By protecting the agricultural foundation of Adams County, through the preservation of valuable farmland, you are also ensuring employment to hundreds, as well as ensuring the economic sustainability of the Adams County region.” Mark Clowney adds, “Many people fail to link economic development with land preservation, but by preserving farmland, we are ensuring that agriculture in this region continues to prosper, and as a result the future economy.”
The environmental benefits of farm preservation are numerous as well. Farmland preservation complements governmental zoning and planning regulations as well as provides the best protection for Adams County’s pristine waterways, picturesque farmland, rolling hills, and lush woodlands. Moreover, undeveloped open acreage, as found on many farms, enhances air and water quality by reducing traffic congestion and air pollution, provides zones for aquifer recharge, requires fewer public services, sustains the economy by producing food and providing jobs, and generally contributes to a higher quality of life. “Land preservation goes beyond the landowner; through preservation, you are looking to the future, and making sure that farmland is available to continue its use as a means of producing food. Not to mention the uniqueness in the land that agriculture provides,” says Mark Clowney.
“There is one thing for certain,” says Vince Lobaugh, a co-owner of Lobaugh Farms, “the acreage that is here is the only acreage we are going to get. Preserving this land is the means to making sure we don’t lose any of it. We know we are going to continue farming. In preserving these lands, we know that this acreage will remain in agriculture. There are no dollar signs at the end of the road when we exit agriculture. The reason for going into Ag preservation is simple, I prefer seeing agricultural scenery rather than housing developments.”
To date, over 4,173 farms in Pennsylvania have been successfully protected through the Easement Purchase Program, totaling 452,000 acres. “It was an obvious move,” says Dean Lobaugh, co-owner of a preserved dairy farm in Aspers, “we wanted to be able to continue our farming operation on the same unchanged lands and we wanted to ensure that it would remain farmland.”
“Currently, for the 2011 to 2012 budget we have 105 applicants totaling 9,400 acres who we are ranking, based on soil class, agricultural security areas, and a number of other criteria,” says Ellen Dayhoff. It is interesting to note that land preservation is a volunteer program, “we have to let farmers come to us,” says Mark Clowney, “but the benefits of land preservation as a land planning tool draw the attention of many applicants.”
However, the range of interest in land preservation ebbs and flows with the state of the economy. “With the economy as it is, more and more people are looking to preserve their lands in the interest of gaining some extra money, but there is a catch-22. With the economy as it is, budget cuts have been implemented, leaving us with less money to preserve land, so we are forced to allocate our land preservation funds to only the most attractive applicants. That is not to belittle the fact that agriculture is of the highest economic use,” says Ellen Dayhoff. “People do not realize that helping agriculture prosper is the best thing to put your money towards, especially when the economy is sluggish. Agriculture generates hundreds of jobs and really fuels the economy. On the other hand, the cost of running a farm is high. So, maintaining and protecting viable farmland, through land preservation, is the best planning tool for the future.” Dean Lobaugh adds, “It was a nice bonus to receive monetary compensation for the conservation easement, but what it came down to was we needed to secure a future for our farm and our business.”
The maintenance of Adams County prosperity rests on the protection of farmland. While many would welcome more shopping malls and movie theaters in the area, it is important to stop and think twice about what is best for the land and for the future of this county. With the proper maintenance, farms can remain prosperous for hundreds of years, while urban centers are inevitably replaced with newer and fancier urban centers and fall prey to withering and decay. In the end, farmland not only provides the food that we need to survive, it provides a beautiful atmosphere in which to live, enhancing our quality of life.
Amelia Jarvinen is an Ag Innovations Program Assistant at Penn State Extension serving Adams County. Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workplace. Penn State Extension in Adams County is located at 670 Old Harrisburg Road, Suite 204, Gettysburg, PA 17325, phone 717-334-6271 or 1-888-472-0261, e-mail AdamsExt@psu.edu.