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Survey: Md. 3rd in nation in protecting farmland

Maryland ranks third in the nation in the number of acres protected by farmland protection programs and third in total dollars spent, according to an annual survey released Tuesday by the American Farmland Trust, a national organization that works to protect farmland, promote sound farming practices and keep farmers on the land.

Maryland has protection in place for 18 percent of its farmland, behind only New Jersey, with 27 percent, and Delaware, with 21 percent, the American Farmland Trust said.

New Jersey also leads other states in the most money spent for farmland protection with $975.1 million, followed by Pennsylvania with $853 million and Maryland with $672.3 million.

The trust lists two Maryland programs, the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation, with 285,701 acres protected, and the Rural Legacy Program, with 76,146 acres.

The first was established in 1977 and is part of the Maryland Department of Agriculture. It buys agricultural preservation easements that restrict development on prime farmland and woodland.

The Rural Legacy Program falls under the Department of Natural Resources and was created to discourage sprawl. It offers farmers and landowners an alternative to developing or subdividing their land by allowing them to sell or donate their development rights while retaining ownership.

The program is funded through a combination of Maryland Program Open Space dollars and general obligation bonds from the state’s capital budget, with some support from local jurisdictions.

Nationally, the American Farmland Trust survey of state farm and ranch land protection programs shows a 19 percent increase in funding from 2011 to 2012. But Andrew McElwaine, the trust’s president and CEO, said funding levels are 39 percent below where they were in 2008, before the recession.

“While there is some optimism in our survey, the United States has been losing one acre of farmland every minute to development,” McElwaine said in a statement.

“In the face of a global need to double food production by 2050, that is unacceptable. We believe state, local and national governments must step up to the plate and do more to protect land and keep farmers farming.”

AFT’s survey of state and local programs is available at: http://www.farmlandinfo.org/pace-status-state-programs-2013.

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