Easement protects Greene farmland

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WAYNESBURG – In an ongoing effort to preserve and protect farmland in Greene County, the county purchased a second agricultural easement and recognized the landowner, James Willis, at the commissioners’ meeting Wednesday.


The county finalized the purchase of the 100.762-acre James F. and Pearl Willis Living Trust Farm in Cumberland Township Nov. 2. The total cost of the easement was $60,961 with the county’s share totaling $13,737 coming from Clean and Green rollback taxes and annual allocations for easement purchases. The remaining $47,224.01 was contributed by the state Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Farmland Preservation.


The commissioners previously sought to purchase 53.7 acres owned by the Willis Living Trust to preserve but could not due to ownership issues related to surface coal rights. The 100.762 acres will continue to be used for beef cattle, rotational grazing and crops.


The Willis easement follows the county’s first agricultural conservation easement purchased in 2008 from William and Lura Ann Cree of Cumberland Township. The Crees’ 108-acre dairy farm was the first Greene County farm entered into the state’s Farmland Preservation Program. The Cree easement was purchased in 2008 by the county and state for $108,000.


According to the American Farmland Trust, the United States is losing 2 acres of farmland every minute to new development. From 1992 to 1997, America converted more than 6 million acres of agricultural land to developed uses. This is roughly an area the size of Maryland. Pennsylvania lost 134,900 acres of prime farmland from 1992-97.


Agricultural conservation easements can be used to permanently protect family farmland from future non-agricultural development, expand or improve farm operations or help with estate planning for landowners.


The Pennsylvania Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Program was developed to strengthen Pennsylvania’s agricultural economy and protect prime farmland. The program, established in 1988, enables state and county governments to purchase conservation easements from farmers. The first easement in the state was purchased in December 1989. Now, more than 4,100 farms have been approved for easement purchases totaling more than 450,000 acres, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.


Guidelines require that easements be purchased on farms of at least 50 acres in size with the greater of 50 percent or 10 acres of harvested cropland, pasture or grazing land. Counties may opt to purchase as little as 35 acres or parcels as small as 10 acres if it is adjacent to existing preserved farmland.


The long-term goal of the program is to permanently preserve farmland preventing development or improvements of the land for purposes other than agricultural production.


Local, county or state government or any combination of the three may purchase easements. Counties that decide to have an Easement Purchase Program must create an agricultural land preservation board. The law provides for a mix of persons to serve on the board.


Eligible properties must be located within an agricultural security area and be listed as an agricultural security property, in addition to other requirements.


Greene County has five designated areas in Washington, Center, Wayne, Greene and Cumberland townships. A farm also has to be at least 50 acres and comply with soil and minimum harvesting requirements.


The Greene County Conservation will take applications from April 15 to June 15 for future agricultural conservation easements. For more information, call 724-852-5278 or email gccd@co.greene.pa.us.


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