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Maryland officials tour preserved farmland areas


Members of the state Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation got a good look at the jewel in their farmland protection crown yesterday during a tour of some preserved areas in northwestern Carroll County.

"This is one of the most progressive counties in the state," said Dan Shortall, the foundation's board chairman. "You've got more acres in this county preserved than any other county in the state."

Under blue skies with a touch of clouds, the 12-member board took an hour-long window tour of Uniontown, Union Bridge and New Windsor, making one stop at Dennis and Steven Bowman's preserved 112-acre dairy farm.

"This is great weather for this," Mr. Shortall said outside the Bowmans' facility on Ebert Road. The family owns another farm near Union Bridge and rents several others in their 1,600-acre operation.

"The problem is, we all should be working on our own farms today," he said with a laugh.

The 12-member board, which usually meets in Annapolis, took the van tour after a business meeting and lunch at the Carroll County Agriculture Center in Westminster.

Foundation members also toured the Uniontown Preservation Area, a 19-acre section recognized by the foundation as the largest preservation area in Maryland in 1987, said William Powel, Carroll County agricultural preservation director, in a tour guide that was distributed to the visitors.

"Including Maryland Environmental Trust easements and extending into Frederick County, the area covers over 6,500 acres and conservatively produces over $4.5 million of agricultural products [each year]," said Mr. Powel in the guide.

Carroll County has preserved 20,000 acres of farmland through permanent easements and has 20,000 more acres in five-year districts, where owners are waiting to sell easements to the state.

"You've got a five-star program here," said Mr. Shortall, who has been board chairman for three years. "One of your aces is Bill Powel as your executive administrator. He really pushes the program, helps us on the state level and knows this program inside and out."

Foundation members came to Carroll yesterday at the invitation of New Windsor grain farmer Melvin Baile Jr., and others who had supported several pieces of farmland preservation legislation in the General Assembly this session.

"All of us got to talking and they invited us up," said Mr. Shortall, a general farmer in Queen Anne's County who raises 121,000 broiler chickens. "It's been quite a treat to come up to Carroll County. Down on the Eastern Shore, cows are getting scarce."

Included in the agricultural legislation approved this year were bills designed to bring more money into the financially struggling preservation program.

One, submitted by Manchester Del. Joseph M. Getty, returned the program to an annual application cycle to simplify the appraisal and approval process. To preserve a property, a farm is appraised to determine its agricultural value and what it would be worth if developed. The state then purchases the development rights for the difference between those two values.

The second bill, which was proposed by Westminster senator Larry E. Haines, will bring nearly 15 percent of the state's real estate transfer taxes into the program, Mr. Shortall said.

"It didn't give us a lot," he said, noting that the foundation is only able to purchase about 60 easements out of the 400 submitted each year. "We can only answer a small part of the demand with that."

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