Maryland farms for the future Preservation plan: Broad consortium's report aims to save agricultural land.

July 05, 1998

FARMLAND, well managed and productive, can provide a bounty of benefits for an increasingly suburbanized society. It is food and fiber, pastoral open space, environmental protector of waters and wildlife.

Maryland's 20-year-old Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation buys development rights from farms, keeping land in agriculture. Half of the counties have their own programs, often linked to the state effort that has permanently preserved nearly 150,000 acres.

Yet the state continues to lose 30,000 farm acres a year to development. Population growth fuels the need for housing and services, and the need to convert more valuable farmland.

The nonprofit Chesapeake Farms for the Future Board offers comprehensive plan for saving Maryland's prime farmland, with environmental protections.

The three-year study by the consortium of farmers, environmentalists, homebuilders, and state officials urges a well-funded Maryland effort to purchase development rights from farm owners and institute planning and zoning controls to slow development pressures on these fields. An extraordinary set of detailed, computer-generated maps highlights the challenge facing this state.

A basic concern is that the proposal tries to encompass all concerns and all parties, despite the inherent conflicts of interests and the difficulty in achieving all goals in one package. Several mechanisms are recommended, without endorsing specifics.

Maryland doesn't need as much farmland to feed itself as it once did. Farms are fewer, larger and more efficient producers. Foodstuffs travel freely over state lines.

The Chesapeake Farms report attempts to draw together and reconcile differing aims and perspectives. It argues for preserving farms linked to historical and environmental features, targeting larger spreads of land, moving quickly on lands under strong development pressures, prioritizing the most productive farms.

More funding and changes in the farm selection process are needed, in any case. With its consensus of interest groups and its exceptional agricultural analysis, the Chesapeake Farms initiative provides a good foundation for public debate on this very important issue.

Pub Date: 7/05/98

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