News Column

Dauphin County Commissioners Help Halifax Couple Realize Dream of Farm Ownership

June 25, 2014



HARRISBURG, Pa., June 25 -- Dauphin County issued the following news:

For soon-to-be-married Austin Kieffer and Casara Gross, the idea of owning their own farm and working the soil as their families have done for generations was a dream shared since grade school.

That dream is becoming a reality - and just in time for their August wedding - through the Next Generation Farm program, administered by the Dauphin County Industrial Development Board (DCIDA). The state program allows banks to provide tax-exempt financing to first-time farmers so they can buy land and equipment.

Under the program, the couple is borrowing a little over $300,000 through the Gratz Bank at a 3.25 percent interest rate for five years - at least 1.5 percent lower than regular loans. After they are married, the couple plans to live in the ranch-style house that comes with the 103-acre Halifax farm.

Commission Chairman Jeff Haste said the board, which passed a resolution allowing the DCIDA to move forward with the couple's loan, is committed to helping new farmers and to preserving farmland. This is the fourth loan approved under the Next Generation program.

"Every year we lose farmland to development and this board recognizes the importance of preserving this valuable resource,'' Haste said. "Farming has always been vital to our nation and it is important to help new farmers carry on this important tradition.''

The low-interest rate the couple is getting will be for five years, after which the loan readjusts every five years to 85 percent of the current prime rate. The couple is also receiving a $300,000 loan at 2.5 percent through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to complete the purchase. Kieffer and his fiancee are both 26, and he said the Next Generation program especially helps younger people who don't have a lot of equity.

"It's very tough to get into farming, but this program makes it more attractive,'' said Kieffer, who works full-time as a civil engineer and also farms 160 acres that he rents in Halifax, growing corn, soybean, wheat and hay and raising cattle. "Without a question in my mind, this is a dream come true. I kept working at it and knew I had to go to college and get a good job to pay for a farm because they aren't cheap. For the last four years of my professional career I've been saving.''

Through the separate Farmland Preservation Program, since 1992 boards of commissioners have ensured almost 15,000 acres - covering 150 farms in 12 municipalities - remains agricultural. Under the program, the county and state split the cost to buy easements for the development rights.

"This board is committed to helping new businesses and to protecting our open space,'' said Commissioner Mike Pries. "The farm this couple will operate will contribute to our local economy and is one more way we are working to create jobs in Dauphin County.''

"When we help new farmers get started and protect open space by buying development rights, we are protecting the land for future generations,'' said Commissioner George P. Hartwick, III. "These kinds of programs also fight urban sprawl by encouraging builders to look at redeveloping our cities and towns.''

The commissioners previously approved the following Next Generation Farm loans:

* November 30, 2012: $488,000, Gerald L. and Renee N. Gruber, 110 acre farm and related buildings, equipment and improvements located at 4371 Kennedy Lane, Londonderry Township.

* May 24, 2012: $488,000, Lester A. and Marion W. Hoover, 82 acre farm and related buildings, equipment and improvements located at 361 Guys Road, Upper Paxton Township.

* June 17, 2011: $467,548, Robert A. and Rebecca Enders, 150 acre farm located at 1196A Tourist Park Road, Halifax.

To learn more about Next Generation Farm program, please visit the state's Department of Community & Economic Development's Center for Private Financing at http://www.newpa.com/business/business-assistance/center-for-private-financing or call (866) 466-3972.

dzFor more information on the conservation of farmland and natural resources, please visit the county's Conservation District website at www.dauphincd.org or call 717-921-8100.

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