They say you can’t stop progress. And growth and development is an inevitable part of progress. The State of Maryland and its more rural counties have made efforts to find some balance to the inevitable growth and development by providing incentives to farmers to preserve agricultural land and our rural areas.  Despite all of the growth and development in Maryland, agriculture still remains an important industry in Maryland, and particularly in some of the less urban metro areas. Fortunately, the State of Maryland has found ways to encourage and sustain the agriculture industry while providing financial assistance and incentives to farmers to preserve farmland for those important agricultural uses and benefits.

As I reported in a previous blog article, “Preserving Agricultural Land in Maryland – Reaping Rewards for Farmers" (May 1, 2017), in 1979 the State of Maryland established the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (the “MALPF”). The intent of the MALPF is: (1) to provide sources of agricultural products within the State for the citizens of the State; (2) to control urban expansion into the agricultural and woodland areas of the State; (3) to control the spread of “urban blight”; and  (4) to protect agricultural and woodland areas for open space land.

As part of the MALPF, the Maryland Agricultural Preservation Fund was created to fund the purchase and acquisition of agricultural land preservation easements and to facilitate agricultural preservation programs. If a county in the State is certified by the State as having actively farmed agricultural land, which meets the criteria for agricultural easements, then the MALPF allows for those counties to make application to the MALPF for funding for agricultural preservation easements.

Many of the more rural counties in the State of Maryland, such as Frederick County and counties on the eastern shore, where agriculture remains an important industry, have adopted and enacted county programs which encourage the preservation of farmland.  Generally, in order to encourage farmers not to sell or develop farmland for non-agricultural purposes, such as residential or commercial uses, there must be some financial incentive. The State of Maryland, through the MALPF, and rural counties, have found ways to provide those important financial incentives through grant funding, property tax credits, and the purchase of easements.

State agricultural preservation programs available for use by the counties include the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Program, the Critical Farms Program, the Installment Purchase Agreement Program, the Rural Legacy Program and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.

The Maryland Board of Public Works recently approved more than $25 Million in grants for the Rural Legacy Program. The Rural Legacy Program targets protecting resource based industries, such as agricultural, forestry, and cultural related industries. The program is funded through grant application funding and tax credits. Since the program is industry focused, there is no minimum soil quality or size requirement; however the land must be located in an approved “Rural Legacy Area.”

Of the $25 Million approved, Frederick County received the largest single grant from the Rural Legacy Program, in the amount of $3.1 Million. Those funds will make it possible to preserve 500 additional acres of rural land in Frederick County, raising the total amount of land preserved in Frederick County under the Rural Legacy Program to 6,000 acres. Through other MALPF programs, Frederick County has preserved approximately 10,000 acres in the past four years, and nearly 60,000 total acres, with an ultimate goal of preserving 100,000 acres of agricultural land.

Preserving rural lands is important for the protection of land, food and fiber sources, and also to protect environmental areas and resources. Through the State of Maryland’s incentive programs the land can be preserved, while allowing the farmer to continue to use the land for agricultural purposes.

So while progress, development and growth are important to sustain areas economically, the State of Maryland and its rural counties have found creative programs and financial incentives to encourage farmers to preserve rural farmlands, allowing the next generation of farmers in Maryland to continue to farm the land, while also preserving our beautiful rural landscapes, woodlands, open space and environmentally sensitive areas. 

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