First West Hanover Township farm preserved by Commissioners under Dauphin County’s Farmland Preservation Program

The Dauphin County Commissioners approved the first West Hanover Township farm to receive protection from future development under the Dauphin County’s Farmland Preservation Program.

From left to right, Dauphin County Conservation District Farmland Easement Program Coordinator Bob Christoff, Dauphin County Commissioner George P. Hartwick, III, farm owner Erich Bair, and Dauphin County Commissioners Jeff Haste and Mike Pries.

“I’m in an area that is seeing a lot of development, and I thought if I could preserve a piece that’s something I’d like to do,’’ said Erich Bair, owner of the 125-acre farm. “Maybe somebody else can enjoy it, too.’’

Under the program, Bair sold the development rights for $192,780, with the purchase price split between the state and county. Since the program started in 1992, the county has preserved a total of 17,476 acres on 181 farms in 12 municipalities.

“Farmland is a valuable and vanishing resource that we must protect,’’ said board Chairman Jeff Haste. “This board has always focused on striking a balance between encouraging development and protecting open space, including land for parks and more active recreation.’’

Bair said his grandfather bought the first 100 acres in the 1950s and then Bair acquired a 25-acre neighboring farm about 10 years ago. With his partner, Barb Boggan, Bair said he raises hay, corn, soybean and wheat.

“I started earning a good part of my living from the farm about 25 years ago,’’ said Bair, 52. “I enjoy the land and being outdoors and being my own boss.’’

Commissioner Mike Pries said the preservation program is an important part of protecting a finite resource.

“Buying development easements ensures farmers receive a fair value for their land,’’ Pries said. “We also ensure these farms are around for future generations.’’

Commissioner George P. Hartwick, III added that preserving open space, including farms, encourages the reuse of already-developed land.

“As part of our economic development efforts, we are encouraging developers to look at brownfields, or former commercial and industrial sites,’’ Hartwick said. “Steering development into these areas not only saves green space, but it helps our older towns and boroughs.’’

Since the program started, the county has allocated $50,000 a year, which many times is combined with state farmland preservation funding for larger purchases. The county program also receives the interest on taxes owed on land removed from the state’s Clean and Green program, in which property taxes are based on the agricultural use and not the higher fair market value that would include development potential.

Owners who take land out of Clean and Green must repay the last seven years of tax savings plus interest. Last year, the county’s preservation program received $72,000 in interest payments from land that was removed from Clean and Green.

For more information on the conservation of farmland and natural resources, please visit the county’s Conservation District website at www.dauphincd.org or call 717-921-8100.