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From the Desk of County Commissioner
 Marty Qually

(4/2013) Prioritizing Preservation in Adams County

According to the 2007 Ag Census Adams County contains nearly 1,289 diverse farms totaling over 174,595 acres. These farms produce everything from grains, hay, fruits and berries, poultry and eggs, to cows and horses. Adams County ranks 6 out of 67 counties in Pennsylvania for the total value of agricultural products sold. With an ever changing landscape and economy our County continues to be a leader in agriculture within the Commonwealth. One need only attend the annual South Mountain Fair or Apple Harvest Festival to notice the importance agriculture plays in our county. With tens of thousands of visitors flocking each year to these events and others related to farming the industry continues to have a strong local presence.

In 1990 the County began to invest in preserving the agricultural lands dotting our country sides. The Farmland Preservation Program was created to permanently protect these lands by placing conservation easements on them. Using state mandated guidelines the program systematically scores farms ranking them on criteria that include soil production, development potential and the proximity to existing preserved farms. While maintaining a structured scoring system the County has been able to cluster many of their preservation efforts. Eleven cluster areas containing over 700 acres each of permanent farmland exist because of the program. To date the program has preserved almost 20,000 acres. The Farmland Preservation programs works in conjunction with the Land Conservancy of Adams County to best utilize Local, State, Federal, and donated funds for preservation. It is also important to note that all of these programs are voluntary. It takes a willingness by the property owner to preserve their land and the ability of local organizations to find funds to pay for the easements on the land. Without both items preservation is not possible.

In 2012 Adams County merged its Ag land Preservation Department was merged into the Adams County Office of Planning and Development and they became the Rural Resource Division within the Planning Office. The County Commissioners did not see planning and preservation as two different areas, but as one in the same. Whether it is transportation, economic development, or farmland preservation, from now on in Adams County it is all seen through the lens of long term planning. With this merger came a new directive to begin formally prioritizing and planning out how we preserved farms in Adams County. Before we continue spending local funds to preserve land, there needs to be a plan on what should be preserved. To this end the Rural Resources Division began creating a map of Preservation Priority Areas (PPA). While the current scoring system has guided the Farmland Preservation Program for over twenty years, one missing component to this has been a priority preservation map. This map will emphasize priority areas in significant agricultural regions within the County based upon demographic and economic data, landscape patterns, current land use plans, as well as community input. Using a geographic mapping program the County will plug many of these features into a computer program and examine their relationships and connectivity to each other. We also intend to use the same format to create an open space PPA map to spotlight the preservation of natural areas, including water resources. This analysis will help find the open space and agriculture lands most appropriate for preservation efforts. These maps are getting away from the subjective opinions of which areas are most important to our County and beginning to analytically determine regions and specific parcels that are the most crucial to the economic, recreational, and cultural viability our of landscape.

And it is not just the Office of Planning working on creating the PPA map. We have been obtaining input from the Conservation District, Land Conservancy of Adams County, and Penn State Extension. Once a final draft is created it will be present to the Adams County Planning Commission, Ag Land Preservation Board, Watershed Alliance of Adams County, the Council of Government, and to the public for comments. For something this important to our County we want as much input as possible before finalizing our plans. Our hope is to begin soliciting public input this Summer.

With limited funds available, the preservation efforts of the County must protect the existing clusters of preserved lands and the most productive areas using priority strategies. Creating PPAs will concentrate the focus of permanent preservation on critical landscapes needed to sustain a viable agricultural land base. The PPA maps will become a guide, albeit a strongly weighted guide that will complement the current scoring systems of farmland and open space preservation. There is no doubt that agriculture and open space are valuable parts of the cultural and economic fabric in Adams County, and by creating priority maps we can make sure to get the best bang for our buck, while still leaving open for development suitable for development. Again with limited funds to pay for projects it is critical to focus on the most economically viable areas for preservation. What sense does it make to expend time and money preserving areas that are within the growth areas of our towns and will be shortly be surrounded my residential sub-divisions? Letís instead focus on our most important lands that have the best long term potential for success and direct our resources to their preservation.

Many changes have occurred over the past 30 years in Adams County in our relationship with the landscape. Less folks live or work on farms, and many commute to work traveling over 40 miles one way. But our dependence on food has never been more important. Former Secretary of Agriculture, Russell Redding, would start many of his speeches with "How many of us eat food?" The answer is obvious. The Office of Planning hopes by creating preservation priority maps for farmland and open space we can help guide our preservation programs in protecting the most important lands of Adam County for the future. Adams County needs viable successful farms to keep our local economy strong and the creation of a Priority Preservation Area map is a great step in the right direction.

Special thanks to Mark Clowney in our Rural Resources Division of Planning for his help with this article. Markís family has been farming in Adams County since the 1960s.

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