Pennsylvania’s Agricultural Land Preservation Board safeguarded 2,509 additional acres on 32 farms in 16 counties recently through the state’s nation-leading farmland preservation program.

Since the program began in 1988, federal, state, county and local governments have invested nearly $1.3 billion to preserve 506,761 acres on 4,782 farms in 57 counties for future agricultural production.

“This meeting demonstrated Pennsylvania’s continuing commitment to preserving our best and most threatened land for agricultural use for all time,” said acting Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding.

The board preserved farms in 16 counties: Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Cumberland, Franklin, Juniata, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Northampton, Schuylkill, Washington, Wayne, Westmoreland and York.

Following the meeting, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture hosted a listening session addressing concerns about farm viability, particularly for preserved farms. The afternoon included presentations from the Vermont Land Trust and Farm & Forest Viability Program, Delaware’s Young Farmer Program, and the National Young Farmers Coalition, including Pennsylvania’s farmer representative. It concluded with a roundtable discussion hosted by Kitchen Table Consultants that developed next steps for addressing the issues of farm viability.

“It’s not enough to save our land – we need to save the farms themselves, by ensuring they have a new generation of farmers ready to step in and work the land,” Redding said. “Our roundtable on farm viability and land transition allowed us to share perspectives on how to address the difficulties facing young and beginning farmers.”

“Pennsylvania is home to nearly 4,800 preserved farms, and because our state’s primary farm operators average 56 years old, we’re faced with the reality of many farms turning over even this year,” said Agriculture Deputy Secretary for Market and Economic Development Hannah Smith-Brubaker. “By working with our partners to develop incentives for succession planning and addressing issues of land access, we can start to ensure success for the next generation of Pennsylvania’s producers.”

The Pennsylvania Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Program identifies properties at risk of development to slow the loss of prime farmland to non-agricultural uses. It enables state, county and local governments to purchase conservation easements, also called development rights, from owners of quality farmland.

In some cases, the federal Agricultural Conservation Easement Program provides additional assistance. Last fiscal year, Pennsylvania received more than $541,000 in federal reimbursements.

Governor Tom Wolf’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2015-16 builds on Pennsylvania’s commitment to preserving valuable farmland by approving a $30 million investment through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Fund line item – a $2.5 million, or 9 percent, increase over what is available in the current fiscal year.