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PHILADELPHIA-The federal government is granting Ohio $1.44 million to protect productive farmland from non-agricultural development. This raises the state’s 2002 budget for farmland protection to $7.69 million, and raises four-year expenditures to $25 million.

Since the program was announced, however, the state’s department of agriculture has been inundated with applications. It has received 442 applications representing 63,450 acres across 49 of Ohio’s 88 counties.

Howard Wise, executive director of the department’s office of farmland preservation, estimates that funding all of the applications would cost $127 million.

The funding falls under the Clean Ohio Fund Agricultural Easement Purchase Program. By voluntarily selling an agricultural easement to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, eligible farmers can be paid the difference between the agricultural value and the development value of their land.

The difference is typically between $1,000 and $4,000 an acre, according to the department.

Eligibility relies on such factors as the quality of the soil to be protected, the land’s proximity to other preserved farmland, and local support for preservation.

Faced with a shortfall of more than $120 million, Wise says, “We are using a scoring system for reviewing the applications that is systematic and fair.”

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