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State to pay $4 million to preserve two agricultural properties in Harford

Two agricultural properties in northern Harford County have been accepted into the state’s farmland preservation program.

The Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation, or MALPF, will pay $2,329,800 for a preservation easement on 388.3 acres owned by Whiteford Packing Company off Route 136 and Wheeler School Road in Whiteford, about $6,000 per acre.

MALPF also will pay $1,719,600 for a preservation easement on 321.45 acres owned by Cooper Trust off Flintville Road in the Whiteford area, about $5,400 per acre.

The two Harford County properties are among 41 approved for preservation easement purchases by the state Board of Public Works on Wednesday. The properties encompass 6,011 in 16 counties, with preservation easements totaling $25.6 million, according to an announcement by the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

Combined, the two Harford County purchases are the largest for a single county in this round, which brings the total acreage preserved under the state program to 313,483, according to the announcement.

“Maryland has one of the strongest agricultural land preservation records in the nation. Each easement purchase proves our commitment to keep farming a viable and profitable industry in our state,” Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement. “Working together, we can ensure a sustainable environment for future generations, preserve open space and maintain the agricultural heritage of our state.”

The governor chairs the boar, members of which also include Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp.

The Whiteford Packing and Cooper Trust properties have been ranked first and second, respectively, for preservation by Harford County’s agricultural preservation program, county spokesperson Cindy Mumby said. Rankings are based on such factors as soil condition and productivity, as well as the potential of development.

When easements are purchased, the property can’t be developed and must be used for agriculture or related activities.

Mumby said that at one time the county had approved a preliminary plan for 60 single family home lots on the Whiteford Packing property; however, that plan lapsed without the owner taking action.

Since then, she said, the state passed legislation in 2012 which limited the amount of development that can occur on rural properties served by septic systems, which had the effect of reducing the number of lots that might have been developed had the owner come back to the county for a new plan.

Harford County has preserved more 50,000 acres of agricultural land through a combination of state and county programs that pay the owners not to development.

More than 30,000 has been preserved through the county’s program that is funded by a local 0.5 percent real estate transfer tax. The county program has been in the process of bringing in four additional properties, encompassing almost 550 acres that were approved for easement purchases last year at a cost of $2 million.

Mumby said MALPF, which has preserved more than 14,000 acres in Harford, will consider a county’s top eight ranked properties in a given year, “until they use up the available money.”

MALPF was created by the General Assembly in 1977, and has since spent $645 million acquiring easements, according to Wednesday’s announcement. With county and other state preservation programs, more than 800,000 acres of farmland and resource land are protected by easements in Maryland, the greatest ratio of farmland preserved to total land mass of any state.

Among the other properties approved for easement purchases Wednesday is 117 acres owned by Troyer Farms LLC in the White Hall area of Baltimore County near the Harford County border. The state program is paying $813,190 for the easement, $7,000 per acre.

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