New farmland preservation saves 9,000+ Delaware acres from development

T.S. Smith & Sons farm in Bridgeville, Delaware is one of nearly 1,000 farms preserved from development throughout the state. (Courtesy of the Delaware Department of Agriculture)

T.S. Smith & Sons farm in Bridgeville, Delaware is one of nearly 1,000 farms preserved from development throughout the state. (Courtesy of the Delaware Department of Agriculture)

For the past 23 years, Delaware has been gradually buying development rights to farms throughout the state. As a result, 25% of the state’s farmland is now permanently protected from becoming another housing development or shopping center.

“The main reason farmers, landowners preserve that land, is that their family has been there in many cases for generations, sometimes over a century, and they want to know that that land is going to be preserved forever and farmed forever,” said Austin Short, the state’s deputy secretary of agriculture. “I think that shows the dedication of our farmers to agriculture and the land itself.”

The latest round of preservation is the biggest in the history of the program. More than 9,300 acres on 111 farms are being preserved. 

“Over the life of the program, landowners have donated, on average, 58% of their development rights value,” said state Agriculture Secretary Michael Scuse. He sold the development rights to his family’s 71-acre farm through the preservation program in 2000. “This is a great investment not only for agriculture but all Delawareans.”

The state spent $10 million to purchase the development rights. All three counties contributed money to help preserve land.

The state also got funding help from a surprising source: the U.S. Navy. A portion of the air range used by pilots flying out of Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland crosses over the southwest corner of Delaware. Keeping that land as open space allows pilots to continue flying a variety of training missions over that area. 

“It’s incredibly important to us to prevent encroachment and find compatible land uses that allow us to do our mission and farming and agricultural usage is exactly compatible,” said Navy Capt. Geoffrey Moore, chief of staff for the Navy’s Washington district. The Navy contributed $443,000 to help purchase development rights in that area.

The latest round of funding also helped New Castle County preserve 100 farms, while there are now 400 preserved farms in Sussex County. Kent County now has 496 farms protected.

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