Agricultural Security Areas
Agriculture is essential to the Tri-County area and throughout the commonwealth. Pennsylvania is home to 63,000 farm families and more than 7.7 million acres of farmland, generating $5.7 billion annually from production agriculture. Pennsylvania farmers and agribusinesses are the leading economic driver in our state.
Farms define the character of rural areas and provide a link to our heritage. Still, agricultural areas are threatened by suburban-type sprawl and an influx of residents expecting an old-fashioned rural lifestyle, only to be surprised by the industrial nature of modern farming practices.
To address this problem, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed legislation that provides for Agricultural Security Areas (ASA), which can be implemented by municipalities. ASA designation is a voluntary process, initiated by landowners, that affirms a commitment to agricultural uses. To receive ASA designation 250 acres of the ASA must be viable farmland, with non-contiguous parcels containing more than 10 acres or producing more than $2,000 worth of agricultural products a year. Other qualifications must also be met.
The designation process begins with a landowner’s proposal. The municipality will then convene an ASA advisory committee which will report on the proposal to the governing body. If the municipality has a planning commission, it will provide a report to ensure that the proposal is consistent with local comprehensive plans and applicable ordinances. The ASA is revisited every seven years for modification based on recommendations from the planning commission, the ASA advisory committee and the desires of the landowners.
ASAs have many benefits for farmers, residents and the municipal governments. For example, ag uses in ASAs are exempt from nuisance complaints, farms in ASAs over 500 acres are eligible for the purchase of conservation easements by the state, exercise of eminent domain is controlled in ASAs and farmers are eligible to apply for interest rate reductions for farm-specific equipment purchases. Additionally, the voluntary nature of the program and the mandated seven year review ensures that ASAs are designated only where they are wanted and can be adjusted as land use assumptions change.
- Prevents agricultural and residential compatibility issues
- Triggers permanent conservation efforts through easement purchase, in some cases
- Triggers farm equipment loan rate reductions
- Clearly signifies a municipality’s commitment to agriculture
- Voluntary initiation process requires buy-in from the farming community
- May limit municipal powers (eminent domain) in ASAs
- Poorly located ASAs could limit non-agricultural growth in areas where other uses are desired
- Enlist a champion from the farming community
- Ensure that proposed ASAs conform to the municipal and county comprehensive plan
- Maintain communication with farmers in an ASA to anticipate issues during seven year review