Twenty-eight Delaware farmers or couples are receiving assistance with their farms through a loan program that started five years ago, Gov.Jack Markell recently announced.

Twenty-eight Delaware farmers or couples are receiving assistance with their farms through a loan program that started five years ago, Gov.Jack Markell recently announced.

The three newest Delaware Young Farmers Loan Program recipients are Michael Gilbert, of Bridgeville, 53 acres; Darren and Alison Scott, of Lincoln, 62 acres; and Doug Morgan, of Lincoln, 33 acres.

More than 2,269 acres have been purchased with state support and permanently preserved as farmland for future generations. Markell made the announcement at a Delaware State Fair event that recognized the Young Farmers participants and celebrating the 20th anniversary of Delaware's farmland preservation program.

Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee said the Young Farmers Loan Program is a valuable tool that no-interest loans help lower barriers to breaking into farming.

The Young Farmers Loan Program will help with the purchase or expansion of Delaware farms that meet certain criteria. Applicants must have at least three years of farming experience, and their net worth must not exceed $300,000. Eligible farms must contain at least 15 acres of cropland and must not be enrolled in a conservation agreement at the time of purchase. Most applicants use another commercial loan to purchase the property. The Young Farmer loans have provided 49 percent of the purchase price, on average.

July 28 also marked the 20th year of farmland preservation in Delaware, which has preserved more than 120,000 acres of farmland through the Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation and the Young Farmers Loan Program combined. Farms purchased with Young Farmer funds are enrolled in the state's preservation program. To date, it has preserved 20 percent of New Castle County farmland, 35 percent of Kent County farmland and 15 percent of Sussex County farmland.

The Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation approves all applications using an impartial discounted ranking system that maximizes benefits for taxpayers. The foundation does not own the land, but rather purchases landowners’ development rights and has a permanent agricultural conservation easement placed on the property.

Delaware also has more than 56,000 acres of farmland in preservation districts, voluntary agreements in which landowners agree to only use their land for agriculture for 10 years. Farmers must enroll in a preservation district before they can sell an easement.

For information, visit bit.ly/2anOdW9.