COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) became the sole sponsor of the Historic Family Farm Program in 2003 to preserve the state’s farmland, which decreased by nearly 7 million acres between 1950 and 2000.
The program gives landowners options through incentives to keep the prosperous agriculture and food industry growing in the state that provides more than $124 million in investment annually and employs 1 in 8 Ohioans
On Feb. 3, 2020, the 500th easement was signed in Holmes County, a voluntary legal agreement between the landowner, community and state to ensure that the farmland stays in agricultural use permanently.
The land remains in private ownership and future non-agricultural development is prohibited, according to ODA Public Information Officer Katie Boyer. The easement program has preserved more than 500 farms in 61 Ohio counties, totaling more than 79,000 acres, Boyer noted.
Sarah Huffman, the executive director of the Farmland Preservation Program, said, “We honor farm families’ commitment to keeping their farms in the family for 100, 150, or 200 years.”
Huffman said, “It’s part of our culture, it’s part of our heritage. it’s important to these families, but it’s important to everyone in this state that we keep farmland in use.”
The ODA accepts donated property and also works with the Clean Ohio Fund to purchase easements, which benefits the farm family and the land, with strict guidelines enforced to maintain the quality of the soil and surrounding water.
The ODA Historic Family Farm Program included Sesquicentennial Farms in 2013 and Bicentennial Farms in 2016, and now has more 1,700 registered historic farms, with at least two in every county, Boyer said.
Fourth-generation farmer Dale Sheridan, who farms 179 acres in western Madison County near the Clark County line, manages corn and soybeans, and a little wheat, on land his great-grandfather farmed starting in 1917.
“Not a lot of family farmers stay together anymore. They’ve sold off,” said Sheridan. “People are out of touch now where their food comes from,” when they go to the grocery store to buy meat and produce.
Sheridan, like most farmers, is very conscious of protecting the environment, using no-till farming and cover crops to keep carbon in the soil and limit erosion of nutrients into streams that feed algal blooms in warm, wet Ohio summers.