WASHINGTON – Maryland government has paid $114 million since 1977 – more than any other state – to ensure that 110,000 acres of farmland will continue producing food, officials said.
Paul W. Scheidt, director of the Maryland Agriculture Land Preservation Foundation, said the state has been purchasing the rights to restrict development on farms. It does not purchase the property outright.
“Most people don’t know it, but agriculture is the number one industry in the state of Maryland,” Scheidt said. But “without land, that industry wouldn’t be there.”
The industry generated almost $1.5 billion in 1994, said Bruce West, state statistician of the Maryland Agriculture Statistic Service. Broiler chickens accounted for the biggest boost to the economy, grossing $424 million, with another $40 million for eggs, he said. Greenhouses and nurseries grossed $230 million, followed by dairy products, with $187 million, West said.
But despite a healthy season last year, Maryland farmland is being lost at a rapid rate.
In 1950, about 4.3 million acres were devoted to agriculture, on about 39,000 farms, West said. By 1994, that had dropped to 2.2 million acres, on about 14,500 farms, he said.
The transfer-of-development-rights program seeks to curtail the loss.
In the past two decades, development rights to 758 farms have been bought, Scheidt said. The rights to another 1,972 farms comprising 264,000 acres are being considered for purchase, he said.
Carroll County tallied the largest number of development rights sales, with 164 farms comprising 21,076 acres sold as of June 1994. Another 42,000 acres are being considered for purchase, Scheidt said.
Caroline County amassed the second largest total, with development rights to 127 farms covering 17,843 acres sold and another 34,000 acres being considered, Scheidt said.
Harold Kanarek, a spokesman for the state Agriculture Department, said the only county with no development rights sold is Prince George’s. County officials there have lagged behind in helping farmers apply to the foundation, he said.
Farmers typically will offer a bid to the state for sale of their land’s development rights, usually the difference between what the land would be worth if developed and what it is worth if farmed, he said.
Some who sell rights are looking for retirement money. Others are looking to inject cash into struggling farms, farmers and officials said. To be eligible, a farm must have at least 100 acres and meet soil quality standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. -30-