Berks County has hit a major milestone. The county now has 700 farms in the Pennsylvania farmland preservation program after three farms were approved Thursday.
The three added to the farmland preservation program received total agricultural easements of about $266,000. They farmers:
- John T. Bicksler, Tulpehocken Township, 15.3 acres.
- Daniel and Melanie Hetrick, Upper Bern Township, 50 acres.
- Hoppes, Kehl and Reinert families, Oley Township, 41.2 acres.
Berks County now has 69,468 acres in the program — more acreage than any other county.
Doug Wolfgang, Pennsylvania Farmland Preservation Bureau director, said farming is a large part of Berks County’s economy, and the preservation milestone bodes well for the farming industry’s future in the region.
He noted that farming is a $7.4 billion industry in Pennsylvania, with an overall economic impact that is 10 times that when calculating in employment, services and equipment purchases and maintenance.
There are many reasons why preserving farmland in the region is important, he said.
“Berks County’s farmland is within a day’s drive of a large percentage of our nation’s population,” Wolfgang said.
He said having quality farmland that doesn’t need irrigation and is close to the end consumer reduces the associated costs of food production and cuts emissions from transportation.
Wolfgang said the money the farmers receive through the program will be reinvested in the farms, ensuring their long-term viability.
State Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, applauded the milestone, calling it “significant and praiseworthy.”
She noted that the long-term goal of the state’s program is to permanently preserve farmland. The holders of the easements have the right to prevent development or improvements of the land for purposes other than agricultural production.
Since the farmland preservation program started in 1988, Pennsylvania has protected 4,892 farms totaling 516,417 acres with nearly $1.29 billion in easements.