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Farmland Studies     <BACK

WHAT IS A FARMLAND ASSESSMENT STUDY?

Pennsylvania has a strong agricultural heritage. The agricultural products produced in this state provide food, clothing, and shelter to Pennsylvania residents as well as the rest of the nation. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PENNDOT) recognizes the value of such a resource, and has sought to help protect our state's farmlands from conversion to nonagricultural uses. In order to achieve this goal, PENNDOT has incorporated farmland assessment studies into their Environmental Evaluation Process for all federal and state-funded transportation projects.

The first step in a farmland assessment is to identify the agricultural resources in the study area. This includes farm fields, farm buildings, and farm support services (such as equipment retailers, farmer's markets, etc.), which are identified using aerial photographs and field views. Further investigations are performed to identify farmland in special preservation programs. These programs include agricultural easements, agricultural security areas, and lands enrolled in Act 515 or 319 (Federal Agricultural Laws and Regulations). This information is gathered through coordination with municipal and county government offices, the county recorder of deeds office, the county agricultural land preservation board, the county farm services agency office, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, and private conservation organizations. All agricultural resources identified are then added to the environmental resource mapping.

Once alternatives have been developed, all efforts are made to avoid and/or minimize impacts to farmlands while meeting the project's needs and objectives. However, if avoidance is not possible, detailed information on the farming operations is collected to best minimize harm to those operations. Detailed data collection includes tax parcel research, the identification of soil capability classes, and interviews with property owners and farmers. Information gathered at this stage is placed on mapping and used to determine detailed agricultural impacts for each alternative.

In order to document the alternatives analysis process and all efforts to avoid impacts to agricultural lands, a Farmland Assessment Report (FAR) is produced. This report provides a description of the development and analysis of each alternative, its impacts to natural, socioeconomic, and historic resources, engineering information, and an assessment as to why this alternative was carried forward or dismissed. The FAR also includes a detailed description of the preferred alternative, its impacts to agricultural resources, and the efforts made to minimize harm to this resource. FAR information is then presented to the Agricultural Land Condemnation Approval Board (ALCAB) for approval to condemn agricultural lands impacted by the preferred alternative.

The farmland assessment process is designed to avoid or minimize impacts to our state's valuable farmland. It is through this type of effort and protection that we will be able to preserve our rich agricultural heritage and strong economic commodities.

 
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