Pennsylvania farmers who implement conservation practices on their land will be eligible for up to $150,000 in tax credits under legislation approved in the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Ed. Rendell in July.

The Resource Enhancement and Protection Act, or REAP, is aimed at speeding nutrient reduction efforts on farm lands by providing transferable state tax credits to farmers who voluntarily plan and implement effective actions that reduce runoff such as barnyard improvements, the planting of riparian buffers, the erection of stream fencing and other eligible activities.

"REAP is one of the most important programs to benefit agriculture and water quality in Pennsylvania's history," said Rep. Jerry Stern, one of the bill's sponsors. "This groundbreaking legislation will not only help our streams, but will also help the economic stability of Pennsylvania's number one industry-agriculture."

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation heavily pushed the proposal, which was supported by more than 65 environmental, sportsmen, agricultural groups and businesses.

"They clearly understand that a healthy environment and healthy farms go hand in hand, and REAP will make significant strides toward meeting Pennsylvania's obligations to reduce pollution going into our streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay," said Matt Ehrhart, executive director of CBF's Pennsylvania office.

The program provides state tax credits ranging from 25 percent to 75 percent of the cost of implementing practices. Generally, the greater the water quality benefit, the greater the tax credit. The program also makes businesses that help to fund such projects eligible for tax credits.

Each farmer enrolled in the program is eligible for up to $150,000 in tax credits, which can be extended over a period of 15 years. There is no limit on the amount of tax credits a business sponsoring farm projects may be awarded.

"As a member of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, I understand the need to clean up our rivers and streams as well as the role that agriculture can play in those efforts," said bill sponsor Sen. Mike Waugh. "I also know farmers cannot do it alone. By enacting REAP, we are giving our family farms a chance to improve their bottom line while improving statewide water quality."

The program will take effect on Oct. 23, and will have a first year cap of $10 million. It will be administered by the State Conservation Commission, which will determine whether a project is eligible for a tax credit before the project begins. Once the commission certifies the project is complete, the state Department of Revenue will issue the tax credit.