County looking to set aside more farmland

June 10, 2011
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Kent County Commissioners agreed last week to buy the development rights of a Sparta Township farm and to make a grant application to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for half of the purchase price.

The option to buy the rights, which would preserve the land for farming and prevent the property from being developed commercially, will cost the county $110,000. The farm has 73.15 acres, making the per-acre price $1,504. The county’s Agricultural Preservation Board approved the purchase in April.

Kendra Willis of the Kent/MSU Extension Service and a consultant to Kent’s Purchase of Development Rights program will apply to the USDA Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program for a grant of $55,000. If the application is approved, the remaining half of the cost will come from the county’s general fund and from the Grand Rapids Community and Frey foundations. Both made multi-year commitments to offer matching grants to the PDR program. Commissioners allocated $275,000 from general operations to the PDR program for this fiscal year, the same amount they dedicated to it last year.

Wills told the Business Journal that she thought the grant would be approved before the USDA’s fiscal year ends Sept. 30. She also said she hopes to close in December on the Sparta Township farm and three other purchases commissioners approved in late January. The three other farms total 363 acres and cost $560,000 to preserve, or $1,543 per acre. The farms are in Tyrone, Nelson and Sparta townships. A grant from the USDA is covering $218,400 of the cost, with the remaining amount coming from the foundations and the county.

If all four transactions close, the PDR program will set aside 436.15 acres of farmland this year at a cost of $670,000, or $1,536 per acre. Last year, the county closed with five property owners on 616.5 acres for $1.08 million, or $1,756 an acre.

More than 1,900 acres of farmland have been preserved in the county over the past several years. The county’s PDR program has set aside 1,544 of those acres from its inception in late 2002 through last year.

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