For agriculture in Southern Maryland, distance to urban areas presents both an opportunity and a threat. The opportunity is proximity to the 4th largest metropolitan area in the country, with the highest median income and a food budget of $26 Billion. The locally-sourced food movement is a benefit to the region's farmers and farm transportation costs are lower than food that is transported from outside the region. In many cases, farmers need only take their products to the nearest farmers market.
Distance to urban areas also presents a threat to agriculture in Southern Maryland. The closer that land is to urban areas, the greater its value. Maryland has the fifth highest population density in the country. Farmland is worth three times the national average, making it more difficult for new farmers to purchase and more appealing for speculators who want to convert it to other uses.
To retain Southern Maryland’s agricultural industry and culture, the members of the farming community solicited funding from the state as a part of the Tobacco Buyout Program in 1999 and SMADC has been fortunate to receive land preservation funding from the state for most of the years since 2000. Land preservation programs allow farmers to retain the equity in their land while preserving the economic potential of the land and farm employment opportunities for future generations.
SMADC's wider environmental focus fits well with its land preservation efforts. By preserving land from overdevelopment (and the attendant problems of pollution, strain on natural resources and disintegration of infrastructure for the farmer) the Land Preservation Program helps to protect the Bay and reduce the costs of Bay cleanup. In addition to SMADC’s Land Preservation Program, other SMADC efforts reinforce the notion of land conservation. For example, SMADC requires that all grant recipients under SMADC's FARM VIABILITY ENHANCEMENT PROGRAM agree to land preservation covenants, guaranteeing that the land may not be sold for development for the duration of the grant.
How much land preserved? The original goal to preserve 35,000 acres of land is within our reach. Since the formation of SMADC, Southern Maryland counties have matched SMADC funds to preserve more than 27,000 acres in twelve years. The agricultural land preserved also includes provisions for maintaining forests and wetlands. This is a remarkable achievement considering the pressures (and financial incentives) for farmers to sell quality farmland for development and the ever increasing cost of farmland.
Making land preservation a priority. At a public forum sponsored by SMADC in November of 2007, land preservation emerged as a primary concern. Overwhelmingly, attendees expressed a need for more options to help preserve the rural quality of Southern Maryland. They asked to make financing and options for land preservation more accessible. They expressed the need for more preservation programs with less bureaucracy and red tape and asked for help in understanding the land preservation options. "Make it happen and make it unique for Southern Maryland," was the consensus. So far, it has been a success, but more land still needs to be preserved to ensure viability of Southern Maryland agriculture in the future.
Read more about these SMADC programs: