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Keeping Viable Farms on the Urban Edge
Many local and state governments expend considerable resources to retain farmland on the edge of metropolitan areas, which supply the majority of the country's fruit, vegetable and dairy products. But according to J. Dixon Esseks, who is conducting a two-year study of urban edge farming at the University of Nebraska (Lincoln), "The real issue is even though we have set aside land through agricultural conservation easement programs, zoning or because of land use constraints, do we have enough other conditions, such as agricultural economic development tools, present for a viable agricultural sector to flourish?" AFT's Center for Agriculture and the Environment is working with Esseks to research 15 communities across the country for the study. Various policies that promote viable farming will be evaluated to identify a set of workable models for counties facing development pressures.

Farm Conservation Programs Face Big Cuts as Budget Debate Begins
Faced with the need to reduce federal spending, President Bush’s proposed budget for 2006 calls for cuts to agriculture programs of $5.4 billion, including cutting commodity payment rates by 5 percent, over the next five years. Conservation programs for working farms and ranches were slashed by 31 percent, again making them take a disproportionate share of the cuts. AFT welcomes the Administration’s initial efforts to reduce the deficit and reform subsidy programs but decries the cuts to conservation programs, which will result in dirtier water, more soil erosion, less wildlife habitat and less farmland protected.

New Commodity Program Payment Limitation Bill Introduced
Senators Charles Grassley and Byron Dorgan introduced proposed legislation that would place a limit of $250,000 on the amount of commodity payments any one farm can receive on an annual basis and close existing loopholes in order to distribute scarce federal dollars in a more equitable way and help more farmers. The bill is consistent with the payment limit proposal included in President Bush’s 2006 budget. AFT supports the legislation and other reforms that will free farmers from the distorting influences of the current subsidies, help more farmers and protect the environment.

Next Generation LESA Helps Communities Make Decisions
The commonly used Land Evaluation and Site Assessment (LESA), a tool that helps communities make local land use and funding decisions, is increasingly being adapted and utilized in innovative ways. A newly developed statewide LESA for Montana has proven effective in capturing locally important natural resource and social values by including both an environmental and public benefit criteria (i.e., water quality benefits, historic and community values, and connectivity with other protected lands). Clarke County, Virginia, creates a property resource score by using LESA and a natural, scenic and historic evaluation. Natural Resources Conservation Service is using the Computer-Assisted Land Evaluation System to help decision-makers identify important farmland in Nebraska and make logical and defensible community land use planning decisions.

Cost of Community Services Studies Help Create PDR Programs
An AFT assessment of the cost to acquire agricultural conservation easements in the town of Caledonia, Wisconsin, is helping the town's elected officials assess whether to create a local purchase of development rights (PDR) program. The annual cost to taxpayers for a PDR program ranges from approximately $13 to $31 per $100,000 of assessed value, depending on the source of funding and how much acreage is protected, according to the assessment. This assumes the average cost of an easement is $3,412 per acre, slightly higher than the current cost to purchase development rights in the state. Local officials also are referring to several AFT case studies of successful local PDR programs to guide their decision. In addition to helping communities nationwide assess the feasibility of PDR, AFT offers expertise in building support for, creating and implementing PDR programs.

News Briefs from Around the Country
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has suspended the Indiana Land Resources Council, which was created by lawmakers in 1999 to address sprawl, conservation, redevelopment, planning and zoning.

Further demonstrating a commitment to preserving the state’s farmland, Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Fred Dailey appointed Sara Nikolic Vice-Chair of the Ohio Farmland Preservation Advisory Board, which makes recommendations on the selection of the Clean Ohio Agricultural Easement Purchase Program applicants and proposed changes to the program.

The future of farmland in North Carolina is receiving a big boost through the Land for Tomorrow (LFT) Coalition, a broad-based effort to raise awareness of the importance of land conservation for the state's economy and quality of life.

AFT is working with New York legislators to amend Article 25AAA of the Agriculture and Markets Law, so that towns and counties could become eligible for planning grants.

The Bella Via community near Naples, Florida will serve as the prototype for the sustainable community of the future in an effort to prove that any city of 100,000 or more can support this type of co-created lifestyle.

In February, the USDA awarded more than $22 million in Environmental Quality Incentives Program funds to 17 states.


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