HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Many consider agriculture to be the Keystone State’s number one industry. A new bill aims to sustain farmers’ livelihoods for years to come.
State Senator Scott Martin says Senate Bill 64 has bipartisan support. Its goal is to give a boost to farmland preservation efforts while saving taxpayer dollars.
Farmland is important to different people for different reasons. For some, it’s their jobs. For others, it’s simply where their food comes from. But in parts of Central PA and specifically Lancaster County, it’s the centerpiece of the tourism industry.
“We’re not just preserving land,” said Martin. “We’re preserving our agriculture history, our agriculture heritage.”
Martin says his legislation does just that by getting more money for preservation efforts without raising taxes.
The bill shifts about 10% of the state’s money already being put toward farm preservation from going to county programs to going to land trusts.
Land trusts are nonprofits that take over the responsibility of properties with the permission of landowners.
The deal is: land trusts then have to match the funds they get from the state, meaning in the end, more money gets put toward protecting farms.
“Most of them actually engage in very heavy fundraising with folks that they know, whether it’s philanthropic organizations that are dedicated to conservation, other private donors,” said Martin.
Why else allow land trusts to have state funding?
Martin says county budgets are decided in advance, and with soil sampling and deed restrictions, land transactions could take years.
He tells us the nonprofit’s plan for that time, can get better prices and can even be better-received by landowners.
“These groups are there to work with maybe plain sector communities who don’t want to work with the government,” said Martin.
Martin admits there are some counties that have concerns about how this may impact the funding of their preservation programs.
But he says the bill only had a handful of negative votes in the Senate and has broad support from preservation groups.
It now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Many remember the McCormick Farm Cumberland Valley debate that went on for more than a year.
Martin says this bill isn’t about preservation versus development, since some development is necessary, but more about maximizing the use of state funding.
Pennsylvania currently leads the nation in the number of farms and acres permanently preserved for agricultural production.