Harrisburg, PA – The Department of Agriculture’s Farmland Preservation Program has won a competitive partnership grant of $7.85 million from the USDA’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to support climate-smart conservation on Pennsylvania farms, Agriculture Russell Redding said.
Pennsylvania’s $12.8 million investment in preserving farms will leverage these federal dollars for farms that implement and measure the impact of practices that address climate change.
“Climate change is presenting serious challenges to the farmers who feed us and feed our economy,” Secretary Redding said. “Pennsylvania has invested heavily in protecting farmland from development and making farming practices more sustainable and farms more resilient. We have been creative in multiplying those investments to have an even greater impact on our future food supply and economy. We’re grateful to the USDA for recognizing Pennsylvania’s efforts and we’re proud that our state is a national model of innovative conservation.”
Pennsylvania’s grant will fund projects to install climate-smart practices on preserved farms –- measures and practices targeted to meeting the specific challenges climate change is presenting on each farm. Funds will also support producers interested in transitioning to organic production. The PA Farm Bill-funded PA Preferred® Organic Program will provide assistance with organic certification of farms.
Project partners will use COMET-Farm to model the greenhouse gas reduction tied to project activities and Rodale Institute will help the department measure the impact of these practices. Clearwater Conservancy and Western Pennsylvania Conservancy will provide additional support focused on forestland conservation.
The grant was one of 41 regional conservation projects totaling $197 million to match local funds. Farmland preservation funds serve as the matching contribution. Details of the application process for farmers are in development.
“These dollars will be a significant tool for our efforts to improve soil health on preserved farms and reduce the impact of climate change,” Bureau of Farmland Preservation Director Douglas Wolfgang said. “Regenerative farming practices capture and store carbon from the atmosphere and mitigate the effects of climate change. Our hope is that the project will provide additional conservation opportunities for preserved farm owners and multiply the good we are doing for Pennsylvania’s future.”
Pennsylvania’s longstanding partnership with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service led to its first RCPP grant in 2018. That first $6.3 million grant funded projects to install conservation practices on preserved farms in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The second, in 2019-20, invested $10 million to enhance farmland preservation and natural resource protection in the Kittatinny Ridge region of Pennsylvania.
By selling their land’s development rights, landowners preserve their farms, protecting land from future residential, commercial or industrial development. Pennsylvania partners with county and sometimes local governments and non-profits to purchase development rights, ensuring a strong future for farming and food security. Farms that agree to additional conservation measures when the sell their development rights may leverage federal funds through the RCPP and through USDA’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. These federal funds, in turn, allow the department to preserve farms on the waiting list in the same county and help ensure that farms are sustainable.
These new federal dollars will further multiply conservation investments in the 2022-23 state budget that invests $220 million total in the new Clean Streams Fund, including $154 million to fund the new Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program supporting farmers’ efforts to reduce water pollution and improve soil quality, and $22 million to increase funding for the existing Nutrient Management Fund, which supports technical assistance to farms to reduce run-off.