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Farmers fear cuts in funding for farmland preservation in Pa.

By Bo Koltnow, Reporter, BKoltnow@wfmz.com
Published On: May 21 2012 04:01:30 PM CDT
Updated On: May 23 2012 10:22:36 AM CDT

The fight over farmland is becoming a battle in Harrisburg as Gov. Tom Corbett seeks to cut funding for farmland preservation.

HEIDELBERG TWP., Pa. -

The fight over farmland is becoming a battle in Harrisburg as Gov. Tom Corbett seeks to cut funding for farmland preservation.

The fear from some is it will lead to development paving over farms.

David Wolfskill, a farmer in Heidelberg Twp., Berks Co., works hard, from repairing machinery to preserving farmland.

"Last thing want to see is everything you've done or for fathers have done be destroyed," said Wolfskill, who has preserved 700 acres so far, but development encroachment could be growing as state funds for farmland preservation may dry up.

To help balance the budget, Corbett wants to take the $20.5 million from cigarette taxes set aside for farmland preservation and divert it into the general fund.

"It's our number one industry. In order to have farmers continue to farm the land, they need the land," said Tami Hildebrand, executive director of the Berks County Agricultural Preservation Board.

Counties get matching funds from the state. Farmers can then sell their rights to develop the land, but without state funds, Hildebrand fears farmers will be enticed to sell.

"They are getting pressure from developers all the time to convert their land into another use," Hildebrand said.

On the high end, farmers can spend more than $100,000 per month on bills alone. One legislator, who is against the governor's plan, said if you want economic development, the best way to do that is preserve farmland.

"Most of the families that get money plow it into farming operations, adding new equipment, technology, expanding operations in some way," said Pa. Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks Co.

Wolfskill is doing that. His new dairy barn cost more than $1 million, paid for with money from farmland preservation.

"Takes a little edge off when make major purchases because what's cheap?" he said.

The governor's office said the funding cut wouldn't be felt for two years. A Growing Greener Bond would account for the $20 million until 2015, but after that, funding is up in the air.

"You get attached to farming. Being outside it's something in your blood you never get rid of it," Wolfskill said.

Wolfskill and many others are hoping Harrisburg feels the same way about funds preserving Pennsylvania's number one industry.