The economics of preservation, pt. 1



OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn communities across America, the search is on for new sources of economic development. In town halls around the country, debates are being held on how much tax revenue could be generated by a new housing development, for example, or how many jobs might be created by a new factory opening in town.

Increasingly, however, communities are recognizing that farms and farmland are an inexpensive source of tax revenue, job creation, and economic growth. According to the 2012 federal farm census, in states as diverse as Connecticut, Arizona, and Florida, farming is on the increase as farmers rush to meet the growing demand for fresh, locally grown produce and meat.

And while growth in farms and farmland generates local income in the form of agricultural production—not to mention property taxes—it doesn’t cost a lot in terms of infrastructure. A new housing development may require millions of dollars worth of sewer, power, and other municipal services, while a farm of the same acreage will require hardly any municipal services at all, while still creating jobs, generating income, and supplying tax revenue.

According to the Adams County Planning Office, more than half of Adams County is categorized as farmland—nearly 174,600 acres. The county ranks sixth in Pennsylvania in terms of agricultural production overall—but first in the state for apples and peaches, and fourth in the nation for apples. The 2012 farm census found that the market value of Adams County’s agricultural products was more than $200 million. In 2012, Adams County farm workers earned $33.1 million in wages—and Adams County farmers paid more than $5.1 million in property taxes.

Timothy W. Kelsey, Ph.D., professor of agricultural economics at Penn State University and co-director of the university’s Center for Economic and Community Development, writes that farm employment and agriculture-related jobs make up nearly 30 percent of all private sector employment in Adams County. That includes everything from farmers themselves to those who work for companies that provide feed, seed, and fertilizer, to those who haul and process agricultural products.

Growth in Adams County farming means growth in income for the county in the form of agricultural production, jobs, and property taxes, without costing much in terms of municipal services—which means supporting our farmers makes good economic sense for Adams County.

One way to support Adams County farmers, of course, is to buy their products at local farm markets and grocery stores. Another way is to support the work of the Land Conservancy of Adams County. The Land Conservancy partners with farmers and other conservation-minded landowners to ensure that Adams County’s rural lands remain rural, forever.

The Land Conservancy works with landowners to craft conservation easements, which are legal documents attached to the property title that spell out the future uses of a parcel of land. In many cases, local, state, federal, and private grant sources are able to reimburse the landowner for waiving future income from development, providing a source of income for further agri-business expansion. Want to learn more? We explore more of the economics of preservation here. The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association examines the economic benefits of preservation here, and the cost of providing community services here.