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Educate > Farmland Preservation > My Project



Lancaster County, Pennsylvania has been ranked second in the United States for preserving 58,000 acres of farmland.

The U.S. food and farming system makes $1 trillion for our economy and employs 17 percent of workers. Due to an alarmingly increasing world population, saving American farmland is a practical investment for our national economy and worldwide food security.

The economy of Lancaster depends on the beautiful farmlands and unique cultures that attract the tourists year after year. Preserving farmland is also essential in helping protect the environment and the quality food being grown.

We must continue to fight for the conservation of farms and the fertile soil of Lancaster County.

What is farmland preservation?
Lancaster County Key Facts
The Value of Lancaster to PA agriculture
Economical Benefits of Preserving Farmland
Lancaster Farmland Trust
County of Lancaster Agricultural Preserve Board
GIS- Geographical Information System
Urban Growth Areas
Why Farms Are Environment-Friendly


What is farmland preservation?

Farmland preservation is an important and necessary mission. America is losing 1.2 million acres of farmland every year. Farmland preservation is the protection of farms from housing or business development. Lancaster County happens to have some of the most productive agricultural land in the country.

Once a farm has been bought to be developed for anything other than agriculture, any opportunity for continued farming on the land is gone forever. When a farm has been preserved the land is permanently safe from being built on or used for any reason other than farming.

As the population continues to grow, development of the land does too. A lot of the growth has happened on prime soil that had been farmland. The most conversions of farmland have happened around Lancaster City and the scattered developments in Lancaster County.

By preserving farms, Lancaster County is protecting some of the most fertile farmland in the world along with a unique culture that includes the Amish, Mennonites, and Pennsylvania Dutch attractions.

The Lancaster County Planning Commission works with municipalities to focus development and growth around boroughs and the city. This will promote the preservation of top farmland and natural resource areas.

Lancaster County Key Facts

* Lancaster County is made up of 949 square miles with 490,562 people.

* There are 5,293 farms in Lancaster with 411,848 acres of farmland.

* More than 99% of Lancaster farms are family owned.

* Lancaster is known as the most productive non-irrigated farming county in the  entire United States.

* 69% of Lancaster County is farmland.

* Lancaster County ranks first out every county in the U.S. for total preserved    farms.

* Just between 1994 and 2001: for every 1 acre of farmland lost to development, 2 acres have been preserved.


The Value of Lancaster to PA Agriculture

Lancaster is one of the 57 counties in Pennsylvania out of 67 that have farmland preservation programs. Lancaster leads every county in Northeastern United States in profits from agricultural products. Most landowners believe that farming has a long-term future here in Lancaster County.

Every year Lancaster farmers produce:

*Eggs           11.9 million
*Milk           10.2 million
*Pork           4.6 million
*Chicken           3.3 million
*Beef           727,000

Saving farmland is protecting the quality of food for many American communities since 63% of dairy products and 86% of fruits and vegetables are produced from farms that are possible candidates for housing and business development. Every year Lancaster brings in more than $4 billion from food grown on its farms.        
                                 Lancaster           Rest of Pennsylvania

*Number of farms                   5,293                     58,200
*Average farm size                78 acres               132 acres
*Total acres of farmland        411,848                7.7 million
*% of land that is farmland    69%                      27%
*Value of farmland per acre  $7,955                  $3,100
*Income from crops                $156 million         $1.36 billion
*Income from livestock           $758 million         $2.68 billion

Total income                   $914 million                 $4.04 billion


Economical Benefits of Preserving Farmland

Thanks to the saving of many farms, Lancaster County has one of the strongest economies in the state and is number one in the nation of production from non-irrigated land. Agriculture, business-industry, and tourism are the three major factors in the local economy.

Every year Lancaster brings in more than $4 billion from food grown on its farms. One out of every five civilians has a job in the agribusiness industry. Lancaster County brings in $1.7 billion a year thanks to the 7 million tourists visiting the area mainly for the farmland and culture.

Saving farms also saves tax dollars from development necessities like construction of new sewer and water lines.

County of Lancaster Agricultural Preserve Board

The Lancaster Country Agricultural Preserve Board (APB) was created in 1980 to develop ways to protect Lancaster County's agriculture and farmland. Their mission is: "to forever preserve the beautiful farmland and productive soils of Lancaster County and its rich agricultural heritage; and to create a healthy environment for the long term sustainability of the agricultural economy and farming as a way of life".

The board is made up of nine members; four farmers, one building contractor, one township official, one county commissioner, one ag-finance professional, and one Lancaster resident. There are also six employees on staff; one director, three farmland preservation specialists, and two administrative assistants.

Since 1983, the Preserve Board has overseen the purchase of development rights to preserve land for farming. Landowners apply to the Preserve Board to sell their farms' development rights. The board's job is to rank the applications by priority, hire appraisers to estimate the value of development rights, and then make an offer to the landowner. Once landowners sell their development rights they can only use the land for farming.

The Lancaster Farmland Trust was created 8 years after the Lancaster Agricultural Preserve Board in 1988. The Trust stemmed off the fact that Amish or "plain sect" would not work with the government. In 2007, 90% of the farms saved were owned by "plain sect".

Unlike the Lancaster Farmland Trust which is a non-profit organization, the Agricultural Preserve Board receives 48% county, 50% state, and 2% federal, municipal, and private funding. Already over 60,000 acres of land on 715 farms have been preserved by the board. This has been accomplished through 642 conservation easements and there are 209 applications on the waiting list. There are still 90,000 acres in Lancaster County that currently qualify for preservation.

A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement that requires a landowner to limit the type or amount of development on their property while retaining private ownership of the land. Once the Lancaster Farmland Trust or Agricultural Preserve Board pay the owner for the development rights, the farm owner must follow the requirements of the easement. One example would be that there can only be a certain number of buildings and pavement on the property.

After the development rights are in the hands of the board, the second step is to monitor the preserved farms to make sure the rules and regulations of the conservation easement are being followed.

GIS- Geographical Information Systems

Geographical Information Systems is software that evaluates the land. It allows the Lancaster Farmland Trust staff to look at the properties of the farmland. The appraiser then comes in to decide how much the farm is worth.

The Land Evaluation Site Assessment (LESA) is a GIS program that identifies high priority farms for preservation. Property lines, quality of soil, and development pressure will determine how much the landowner will receive in return for the development rights.

The Trust's Land Preservation Committee and Board of Trustees use different GIS maps to make their decisions on what specific farms to preserve. The Trust believes that if there is a boundary of preserved farms around the Urban Growth Areas, it will be easier to keep development in control.

Other than high priorities, applications for conservation easements are first come, first serve. It usually takes 6-8 months from the application process to the final settlement.

The Trust, the APB, and the Lancaster County Planning Commission all play a part in creating well-balanced agricultural communities through out Lancaster County.

Urban Growth Areas

The Lancaster Farmland Trust (Trust) and the Agricultural Preserve Board (APB) have saved a total of 80,000 acres of farmland. Still this makes up for only 20% of the total acres of farmland in Lancaster County. That leaves a large amount of farmland still under threat from development due to urban growth.

Lancaster's population is predicted to reach over 550,000 by 2010 when in 1990 there were 422,000 people. To accommodate the growing population, townships and boroughs are creating urban and village growth areas. Without enough planning to control urban sprawl, the economic benefits of development in local communities will quickly be outweighed by the negative.

Of the 41 townships in Lancaster, 31 have already adopted agricultural zoning ordinances to keep expansion away from areas that are most beneficial for agricultural uses.

Urban sprawl is a growing land-use crisis. It was not until 1990 that area officials recognized the urgent situation. The Lancaster County Planning Commission began helping local communities and townships develop Urban Growth Areas (UGAs).

UGAs are map lines that separate areas for continuing growth and development from the land reserved from agriculture. The Trust rates farms by priority. The most important are the farms within a one-mile radius outside of the UGAs.

Why Farms Are Environment-Friendly

Farms provide food and protection for wildlife, help control flooding, protect watersheds, and maintain air quality. Farms also absorb and filter wastewater and provide groundwater recharge.

Water is a natural resource vital to human survival. A farm with 85 acres of land and 60 cows collects 34 million gallons of ground water from rainfall every year. Out of those 34 million gallons, only 1 million is used by the family and cows living on the farm. That leaves nearly 33 million gallons for personal, recreational, and farmland use.

Now let's take that 85 acres of farmland and say that there is 300 houses built on it. The housing development will increase the pollution of rivers and streams, as well as the risk of flooding. Paved roads and roofs collect storm water which then goes directly into drains instead of filtering naturally into the soil. All of these factors lead to a collection of a third less ground water from rain on developed land rather than farms. The 300 families living there will use over 16 million gallons of water. The result is that there will be only 8 million gallons of ground water supplied to the land and its inhabitants every year.

Since there are nearly 1 billion acres of farmland, agriculture is America's dominant land use. It should not be surprising then that farming has a significant environmental impact. On the other hand, converting land from farms to development has many harmful long-term impacts on ecological quality.



This site was created by Ruth Manthey who is a student at Millersville University of Pennsylvania

Last updated on november 4, 2008

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