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Ag Security areas protect farm activities

  • SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Agricultural Security Areas protects the use of farmland.
    SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Agricultural Security Areas protects the use of farmland.
Published February 16. 2013 09:03AM

Example One:

Don pulled the lever on his recliner, settling back against its cushions, with chips, a beverage and the remote all in easy reach. Squinting, he tapped the remote and instantly heard the familiar voice of his favorite baseball announcer. It didn't get much better than this; a spring night, a gentle breeze through the open window, and a Phillies game about to begin on the big screen.

Suddenly, twin beams of light played across the room walls and Don heard the rumble of heavy machinery. His wife Amy, who had been on the phone in the kitchen, ran into the living room. "What is that thing?" she shouted, against the growing racket. "There's some big thing driving around in the field."

That "big thing" was their farmer neighbor's tractor, towing a no-till drill. With two days of steady rain in the forecast, their farmer neighbor was fighting against time to get his soybeans planted before rains drenched the field. Don and Amy peered out their living room window as the big tractor made another pass.

"I'm calling the cops," Don announced. "There's got to be some law against all that noise."

Example Two:

Chip opened the grill as his wife, Charlotte, brought a plate of marinated ribs from their kitchen. He moved the burgers to the upper shelf, spread the ribs on the lower, closed the top and grinned at his wife. Their house-warming party was already a big hit, and it had barely started.

Two dozen of their friends, from work and from their old neighborhood, mingled around on the deck, nibbling on appetizers. Beyond their back yard, where fresh orange ribbon from the survey still wriggled in the breeze, the view over the beautiful green meadow beyond stretched to the horizon. Then, traveling along a rise in the field, a farm tractor towing a piece of equipment appeared.

"Look," Chip said, calling the guests' attention to the tractor. "You don't get a view like this in the city! This is what living in the country is all about!"

And then the farmer engaged the PTO on his tractor, engaging the gears on the manure spreader, and the cookout quickly became a cook-in.

Various zoning areas exist throughout the various towns and townships of our counties. For example, areas may be zoned industrial, residential or agricultural. Sometimes, when residential development occurs adjacent to or nearby an existing farm, conflicts may arise.

Farmers can protect the heritage of their land through programs such as Clean and Green or Agricultural Preservation. But although those programs protect the land, another program, Agricultural Security Areas, protects the use of the land. Farmers who enroll their land in an Ag Security program may continue their farming activities and are protected from having unreasonable restrictions placed against those activities.

"The Agricultural Security Area (ASA) does not place any restrictions on land use and the landowner retains the rights to subdivide, sell or change the use of the land subject to local zoning laws," explained Duane Dellecker, who heads the Carbon County Ag. Land Preservation Board, headquartered in Bowmanstown. "By participating in the ASA, the landowner is protected from local nuisance ordinances for normal farming operations - meaning, a dairy farmer who spreads manure on the fields is not creating a public nuisance."

Some farm owners have a misconception that the program can somehow hurt them, but it only helps them, Dellecker said.

East Penn Township leads Carbon County with 3,867 acres enrolled in Agricultural Security (see sidebar with Carbon County ASA areas). Getting a program started takes lots of organization initially, but once that's accomplished updating and maintaining the status runs smoothly, according to Deanna Cunfer, East Penn Township secretary, who handles the paperwork.

"You (the township or municipality) will have to establish an Ag Security Advisory Committee, basically one board member, three farmers and one resident," Cunfer explained. "To get started you need to have 250 acres to enroll, and that can be the total from a number of farms."

"Instead of processing additions whenever someone wants, since it is a process that takes about four or five months to complete, we set a deadline for applications as March 31 so the board acts on the applications at their April meeting," she added, explaining the process as set up in East Penn Township. "That gives enough time to get it through in the same calendar year."

Landowners interested in learning more about the ASA program should contact their local government officials for more information. If an ASA program does not exist in their area, they can contact officials at the county level for information on how to establish a program:

Carbon County

Ag Land Preservation Board, Bowmanstown

Duane Dellecker

(610) 852-5111

Schuylkill County

Ag Land Preservation Board, Pottsville

Liz Hinkel

(570) 622-3742 ext. 117

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