HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Pennsylvania continued protecting its valuable farmland last week by adding 29 more farms to its premier Farmland Preservation Program. In all, 22,358 acres were preserved in 2005.

"Once again, we've shown our commitment to Pennsylvania's agriculture industry," Governor Edward G. Rendell said. "We preserved another 3,040 acres of quality farmland today for a total of 210 farms we preserved this year."

"With the additional 29 farms preserved by the Farmland Preservation Board today, Pennsylvania has preserved 2,746 farms totaling 314,719 acres since 1988," said Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff. "The commonwealth remains the national leader in the number of farms and acres preserved.

"We expect to have another good year for preservation in 2006 with the commitment of extra dollars from Growing Greener II," Wolff said. "Still, we need to remain vigilant to preserve the great agricultural community we have. While we are able to preserve 60 acres a day, 300 are lost to development."

Once farmland is converted for residential or commercial uses, it cannot be reclaimed for agriculture.

"By protecting farmland for future generations, we not only strengthen our state's agricultural industry, we protect the very prosperity of Pennsylvania," Wolff said.

In July, Governor Edward G. Rendell signed Growing Greener II into law after Pennsylvania voters approved the $625 million bond issue in the May primary. The plan provides $80 million in new funding for the state's Farmland Preservation Program over six years, and will help preserve 2,000 farms still waiting to be protected from development.

The latest protected farms are in the following 18 Pennsylvania counties: Allegheny, Berks, Blair, Bradford, Chester, Dauphin, Erie, Fayette, Luzerne, Lycoming, Mifflin, Schuylkill, Somerset, Union, Washington, Wayne, Westmoreland and York.

Additionally, Greene and Warren counties became the 55th and 56th to be enrolled in the program. The Pennsylvania Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Program was developed in 1988 to help delay the loss of prime farmland to non-agricultural uses. The program enables state, county and local governments to purchase conservation easements (also called development rights) from owners of quality farmland.

Agriculture is a $45 billion industry in Pennsylvania.

For more information on the Farmland Preservation Program, visit the state ag Web site and click on "Producers."

SOURCE: Pennsylvania Office of the Governor via PR Newswire.