The Carroll County Agricultural Land Preservation Program staff recently opened a new application cycle, and interested applicants are encouraged to apply by Aug. 15.
According to program manager Deborah Bowers, Carroll's Board of County Commissioners has allocated $5,509,500 to this year's program.
"It's a significant sum," Bowers said. "We have already received some applications from some very nice, good-size farms, and we have inquiries from quite a few farm owners expressing interest. Farmers have come to know that there is a great future for farming in Carroll County because they know land will always be available because of this program. This is economic development with a return that is permanent and home-grown."
Bowers said owners of at least 60 acres of farm or forestland can find an application on the program's website or call 410-386-2214. Owners of fewer than 60 acres but more than 30 acres may also apply if they meet additional criteria.
Potential properties must meet size, development potential, soil productivity and location criteria in order to qualify, Bowers said. The price paid per acre is determined using a points-based formula that assigns value based on the property's location and up-to-date comparable market value data.
Bowers said the county-operated program ranks in the top five most successful programs in the U.S. and as the top program in Maryland.
The program, started in 1980, enables farmland owners to retire the development potential of their land and invest in their farm operations, thereby preserving land for agricultural use in perpetuity. The county's goal is to preserve 100,000 acres.
"The long-standing goal of preserving 100,000 acres is almost three-quarters accomplished. The number of acres preserved as of June 30, end of fiscal year 2017, is 70,311," said Bowers. "Our farm community has a right to be proud of what they have accomplished in this program over the last 30 years, and the county commissioners are highly supportive of the program, so that will continue."
Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, also farms in Finksburg and has dedicated 30 acres to the program.
"We want to hit the 100,000-acre goal. Every year we try to get a little closer," Weaver said. "The commissioners set up a goal to start preserving ag ground in the 1980s. It's the only goal in all the departments that has been constant in all these years."
Weaver said the commissioners strive "to balance the amount of development and farmland."
"Every great society that can't feed themselves starts going downhill," Weaver said. "You have to have the ability to produce your food yourself. I think the previous commissioners really had some insight, and we've been keeping it going."
Farmers Joseph and Deborah Roberts, of Taneytown, recently committed 77 acres to the program.
"It's a win-win situation," Deborah Roberts said. "You get to keep your farm, and we like the idea of not having it developed. It's always been a family farm. I just think that my dad would really like to know it's continuing to be farmed."
"It was an excellent opportunity for us," added Joseph Roberts. "You don't have to worry about someone building right on top of you, and it also helped us financially."
Farmer Billy Harrison, of Woodbine, dedicated 99 acres to the program. He recommended those interested in the program discuss their goals with their families.
"They should weigh their market potential before making the decision," Harrison said. "If the amount of money offered to me wasn't enough, I wouldn't have done it, but it's like my retirement account. It gave me what I really need to have — a retirement to look forward to and a way to keep the property intact for future generations. You put a lot of time and effort into making it what it is, and you want to keep it that way even when you're gone."
For more information
Potential applicants can reach program manager Deborah Bowers at 410-386-2737 or visit www.ccgovernment.carr.org/ccg/agpres.