More than 120,000 acres of Delaware farmland are now permanently preserved for future generations, state officials announced recently, marking the 20th anniversary of the state's preservation program.

More than 120,000 acres of Delaware farmland are now permanently preserved for future generations, state officials announced recently, marking the 20th anniversary of the state's preservation program.

With 17 farms on 2,245 acres entering the latest round of the program, 24 percent of Delaware farmland is now preserved forever. There are now 825 farms preserved permanently statewide.

 The latest properties include two in New Castle County, eight in Kent County and seven in Sussex County.

Keeping land in farming across the state is a core mission of the Department of Agriculture, said Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee.

The Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation approves all applications, using an impartial discounted ranking system that maximizes benefits for taxpayers. The foundation does not own the land, but rather purchases land owners’ development rights and has a permanent agricultural conservation easement placed on the property.

Delaware's statewide program made its first round of easement purchases in 1996, and has since preserved 20 percent of New Castle County farmland, 35 percent of Kent County farmland and 15 percent of Sussex County farmland.

Bob Garey, a Felton-area farmer and chairman of the foundation's board of trustees, said the neutral nature of the program is one of its most important strengths.

County governments can choose to partner with the state program and add county funds to select additional properties in their areas, leveraging state resources for the greatest impact. In the round announced today, Kent County contributed $117,357.68 to help purchase development rights on six properties.

Delaware also has more than 56,000 acres of farmland in preservation districts, voluntary agreements in which landowners agree to only use their land for agriculture for 10 years. Farmers must enroll in a preservation district before they can sell an easement.

For information, visit dda.delaware.gov.