Statewide program - Formed in 1991 - researched by Deborah Bowers

OVERVIEW - Between 1996 and 2002, Delaware state government acquired more than 65,000 acres of easements on 310 properties for an annual average of more than 11,000 acres and 50 easements. No other agricultural easement program has moved so rapidly. The Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation was not organized until 1991, some years after active programs in nearby states were created. Not until 1995 was the program funded. The program is managed solely by state government without direct involvement by local governments or nonprofit organizations. Delaware is now the leading state in average annual funds spent per capita (about $14) and perhaps in the proportion (about 12 percent) of total farmland protected with easements. The reasons include a steady stream of funds since 1995, boosted by the income from an unusual legal settlement with another state, and low direct easement costs resulting from low land costs and a landowner bidding process for selecting parcels. The program is emphatic about using easements for the specific purpose of maintaining the agricultural industry, avoiding other preservation objectives such as shaping urban growth and protecting resource lands.

EASEMENT ACTIVITY - 65,377 agricultural acres on 310 parcels; poultry, field crops, vegetables.
Goals: No specific program goals.
Other Easement Programs: None.

Acquisition Spending to Date: $69.5 million-direct easement costs have averaged a little over $1,000 per acre. About half of total purchase value represents landowner donations, a result of the bidding process to acquire easements.
Revenues: About 96 percent from state government annual appropriations, averaging $6 million to $7 million a year. Federal funds constitute the remainder-from the Federal Farmland Protection Program and transportation money for scenic highway corridors. Although recently decreased, most-$60 million-of the annual appropriations have been from a legal settlement with the state of New York over the disposition of unclaimed (escheat) funds in brokerage accounts. Annual appropriations have been maintained with general revenues and receipts from a portion of general capital improvement bonds.
Other Arrangements: An opportunity for counties to participate in the program and influence parcel selections in their areas was initiated by the state in 2002 with an allocation of $1 million for each of the three counties. Only Sussex County originally participated, raising $600,000 evenly split between county appropriations and the contributions of a new land trust funded by residential developers.

GOVERNANCE - The nine-member board of the Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation oversees the program. Five members-all with agricultural backgrounds and representing two state farm organizations and the three counties-are appointed by the Governor, the chair is appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the State Senate and three members are ex officio (State Treasurer and heads of the departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources). The staff is housed in the Department of Agriculture.

STAFF AND OPERATING BUDGET - The program has a chief and two additional professionals handling data and all facets of operation. The annual operational budget is about $489,000.

ORIGINS - In the late 1980s, the Governor's Select Panel on the Future of Delaware Agriculture cited conflicts between agriculture and development as the major issue of the decade and called for measures to support economic development of agriculture and protection of farmland. PDR and agricultural district arrangements were recommended by the Governor's Council on Agriculture and legislation was introduced in 1989, but did not pass until 1991. The program was only implemented in 1995 when funds from the legal settlement with New York became available. The first easements were purchased in 1996.

ACQUISITION PROCESS AND STRATEGY - Little discretion exists in the review and selection process. Final decisions for funding are based entirely on the relative discount from appraised values of landowner asking prices. In effect, landowners bid against each other, with the annual selection proceeding from the lowest percentage application until available funds are exhausted. An initial requirement that 75 percent of funds be spent on farms near designated growth areas was recently dropped.
Rating of Parcels: Quantitative, a Land Evaluation and Site Assessment (LESA) ranking is used to approve enrollments in Agricultural Preservation Districts. The top LESA factor is agricultural soil quality-weighted differently by county to reflect local conditions.
Other Criteria: The minimum criterion is enrollment in an Agricultural Preservation District.

CONNECTIONS TO LOCAL PLANNING AND LAND USE POLICIES - Delaware counties control planning and land use regulation. Connections between the easement program and local planning are limited, but involve approval by county zoning boards of the enrollment of parcels larger than 200 acres in agricultural districts. Residential development proposed for areas adjacent to districts must provide 50-foot buffers.
Zoning: None of the state's three counties has agricultural protection zoning. Residential densities in rural areas typically are one unit to one acre.

2000 Population: 783,600
1990-2000 Population Change: +117,432; +17 percent

579,545 acres: 84 percent cropland
Conversion to Urban Use: 16,000 from 1992-1997-about 4,000 acres per year. Most rapid loss is in eastern Sussex County, the state's coastal recreation area. (National Resources Inventory data)

1997 Market Value: $691 million Number of Farms: 2,460
Principal Commodities: Grain, poultry


Several large concentrations of easements are located throughout the state, in areas distant from the major urbanized area around Wilmington. The largest accumulation of easements is in Kent County.