Farmland Preservation in Perpetuity

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Photo by Fotolia/Joy Fera
Ivan Martin wanted his property to be part of Lancaster County, PA's farmland preservation program.

Last September, Ivan Martin made his contribution to the cause of farmland preservation when he became the first Lancaster County, Pennsylvania property owner to insert a provision in the deed to his farm requiring that the land be kept in agricultural use “in perpetuity.” Under the agreement, which was signed between Martin and the county, the restriction stays in effect unless and until both parties decide to break the partnership.

About two years ago, you see, officials in Lancaster County (one of the country’s top non-irrigated farm districts) decided to set up a program to help put a stop to the area’s estimated 3,000- acre-per- year loss in farmland (a result of residential and commercial development). The county’s Agricultural Preserve Board has since worked to interest municipal leaders in writing zoning laws beneficial to farmers, and was responsible for conducting the educational campaign that convinced Martin to include the land use restriction in his deed.

Though the provision allows each participating property owner to take a federal tax deduction based on the difference between the market value and farm value of the acreage in question (since land sold for development generally fetches a higher price than does property sold for farming), Martin has refused to take advantage of the tax break. “Preventing the destruction of farmland is what I should be doing,” says Ivan. “I don’t want the money. I want to set an example.”