Preserving farm land in Pennsylvania should be as easy as possible.
The last thing anyone wants is for a property owner to decide it's too much of a hassle.
More than 250 York County farms are enrolled in the Agricultural Land Preservation program, which allows farmers to sell the easement on qualifying land that is then protected from development and limited in its use.
Some 40,000 acres have been protected through the program, according to Patricia McCandless, director of the York County ag-preservation board.
The guidelines are strict and include inspections. After all, the county spends good money -- some $17 million over the past 20 years -- and it wants to protect its investment.
Sometimes, however, it seems the program is too strict or rigid.
For instance, until last year there was no way for a property owner to simply donate his or her building rights to the program, despite the fact funds for purchasing easements were dwindling.
There were 66 farms on a waiting list to be protected last summer, but all Casey and Sally Barnes wanted to do was give the county an easement on 10 acres in "an unspoiled, beautiful area" in York Township.
Unfortunately, there was no procedure for such a thing.
The couple was ineligible to have easements placed on the land under the traditional easement purchase programs, because farms must be 50 acres or more and meet agriculture-related criteria such as soil quality, McCandless said.
The Barneses had to wait months for the county to craft a donation program, which allowed for parcels as small as 10 acres located inside an agricultural security zone to be donated .
Last December, the couple's gift was the first to be accepted under the new program. We should all be grateful the couple waited instead of walking away in frustration.
Another common sense change might make agricultural land preservation more manageable and attractive to participants.
Currently, counties are required to inspect each property in the program once a year, even though most farmers "are good, honest people" who respect the law, according to state Rep. Ron Miller.
The Jacobus Republican wants to amend the Agricultural Area Security Law to allow for inspections once every two years -- which was welcome news to McCandless.
She said it's difficult for her two inspectors to keep up, although each of the more than 250 farms in York County does receive its inspection each year.
Some farms haven't changed in years, though, so that isn't exactly a great use of time, McCandless added.
If the bill becomes law, inspectors can devote more time to the farms that aren't in compliance and stay out of the hair of those farmers who are doing a "great job," she said. Inspecting farms every two years also would cut the inspectors' workload, which means fewer tax dollars spent on gas and on items such as certified postage.
If a violation is suspected between biennial inspections, Miller's bill would allow unannounced inspections to address the issue.
The bill seems like a small tweak that might help counties across the state better tend to their ag-preservation programs.