HARRINGTON – Delaware has reached a new milestone in helping young farmers purchase land, with 28 farmers or couples now receiving assistance in starting or expanding their farms with an innovative loan program begun five years ago, Governor Jack Markell announced today.
With three new participants in the Delaware Young Farmers Loan Program closing on properties this year, more than 2,269 acres have been purchased with state support and permanently preserved as farmland for future generations, Governor Markell said at an event at the Delaware State Fair, recognizing the Young Farmers participants and celebrating the 20th anniversary of Delaware’s farmland preservation program.
“I’m proud of our efforts to support young farmers and help farmers throughout our state access new markets here in Delaware, across the county, and around the world,” Gov. Markell said. “Helping get more young people into agriculture is vital to the continued success of our state’s largest industry which creates tens of thousands of Delaware jobs and we remain as committed as ever to ensuring its bright future in the First State.”
Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee said the Young Farmers Loan Program, begun under the Markell Administration, is a valuable tool that no-interest loans to help lower barriers to breaking into farming.
“Delaware is firmly committed to helping new generations achieve their dreams of owning farmland,” Kee said. “Each of these 28 farmers is an example of what can be accomplished with hard work and determination. We are proud to be able to support them in their goals and helping make investments in our state’s rich farmland.”
The three Young Farmer loan recipients announced today, bringing the total participation in the program to 28, are Michael Gilbert of Bridgeville, 53 acres; Darren and Alison Scott, Lincoln, 62 acres; and Doug Morgan, Lincoln, 33 acres. The average age of the Young Farmers Loan Program participants at the time of their loan settlements was 29, while the average age of a Delaware farmer is 55.
The Young Farmers Loan Program helps with the purchase or expansion of Delaware farms that meet certain criteria. Applicants must have at least three years of farming experience, and their net worth must not exceed $300,000. Eligible farms must contain at least 15 acres of cropland and must not be enrolled in a conservation agreement at the time of purchase. Most applicants use another commercial loan to purchase the property. The Young Farmer loans have provided 49 percent of the purchase price, on average.
Thursday also marked a special event to recognize the 20th year of farmland preservation in Delaware. Since 1996, when the state’s groundbreaking program was first funded, Delaware has preserved more than 120,000 acres of farmland through the Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation and the Young Farmers Loan Program combined. Farms purchased with Young Farmer funds are automatically enrolled in the state’s preservation program.
Governor Markell, who served on the Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation’s board of trustees as State Treasurer, praised the work of many partners and supporters over the years.
“Preserving land for current and future generations of farming families and supporting our thriving agriculture community are important investments we can make in our economy and way of life, “Gov. Markell said. “Farmers who have committed to preserving their land for agriculture and the volunteer trustees who have overseen our farmland preservation work deserve our thanks and appreciation. With nearly a quarter of our state’s farmland now permanently preserved, we can look forward to protecting even more in the years to come.”
Secretary Kee noted that the voluntary program has had consistently strong interest from farmers in all three counties. To date, it has preserved 20 percent of New Castle County farmland, 35 percent of Kent County farmland and 15 percent of Sussex County farmland.
“The 825 farms which are now protected are a symbol of the incredible progress we have made and the interest among our farmers in preserving their way of life,” Kee said.
The Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation approves all applications, using an impartial discounted ranking system that maximizes benefits for taxpayers. The Foundation does not own the land, but rather purchases landowners’ development rights and has a permanent agricultural conservation easement placed on the property.
Delaware also has more than 56,000 acres of farmland in preservation districts, voluntary agreements in which landowners agree to only use their land for agriculture for 10 years. Farmers must enroll in a preservation district before they can sell an easement.
The Foundation’s Board of Trustees includes representatives from agriculture and state agencies. Trustees in addition to Kee are Bob Garey, chairman; Bill Vanderwende, vice-chairman; L. Allen Messick Jr., treasurer; William H. “Chip” Narvel Jr., secretary; State Treasurer Ken Simpler; Secretary of Natural Resources and Environmental Control David Small; Peter Martin; Theodore P. Bobola Jr.; Robert Emerson; and Janice Truitt.
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