Welcome to the December edition of American Farmland Trust's monthly E-news, featuring the latest on farm and ranch land protection, environmentally and economically sustainable agriculture, planning for agriculture, local food and more.
Breaking News—Farm Bill Moves Forward
After a month-long gridlock over amendments, a deal to move the farm bill to the Senate floor has finally been reached. Both parties are allowed up to 20 amendments, and debate will begin immediately with voting to start next Tuesday, December 11. Senate Majority Leader Reid asserts "We’re going to finish the farm bill before we leave [for December recess]." We still don’t know which of the nearly 300 amendments will be debated. Several amendments important to AFT and to getting a better farm bill for conservation, farm and ranch land protection and local, healthy foods are likely to be included.
Tax Incentives for Conservation Donations Await Action
On November 9, the House of Representatives passed a one-year extension of the conservation easement tax incentive. The House action extends the tax incentive passed last year that allows ranchers, farmers and other landowners to get a larger benefit for donating development rights to their land. Conservation easements are an important tool for protecting our natural resources, and a provision to make the incentive permanent is being considered as part of the Senate farm bill tax package. The House and Senate will still need to work together on a final compromise for this to become law.
AFT’s Steward of the Land Winner Named to Top Agriculture Post
Lorraine Stuart Merrill, AFT’s 2003 Steward of the Land winner along with her family, has just been named the new agriculture commissioner for the state of New Hampshire. The Merrills, who operate the Stuart dairy farm in Stratham, are well-known agricultural leaders—speaking out about farmland preservation and innovative approaches to farm environmental stewardship. Help us find the next farm family with outstanding stewardship and conservation practices! The deadline for nominations for AFT’s Steward of the Land Award has been extended to Monday, December 10th.
Harnessing Farms and Forests to Provide Climate Change Solutions
The nation’s working lands increasingly are being viewed as a critical asset in the fight to reduce global warming. Farms and forests act as natural "sinks," absorbing vast amounts of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in plants and soil. One study from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change found that changes in agricultural practices, paired with the foresting of marginal agricultural lands, could offset up to one fifth of current U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Another recent report noted that land management projects could, by 2025, provide around two-thirds of the reduction that climate models predict will be needed to avoid dangerous climate change. The Presidential Climate Action Project has just released a comprehensive new plan for fighting climate change, with AFT drafting the detailed recommendations related to agriculture.
How Do We Open the Farm Gate to Local Food Systems?
Consumers are increasingly asking for food with the farmer’s face on it—from nearby farms they know, at fair prices. Local foods can spark economic development, foster health, sustain community values and reduce food miles. But how do we address the long-term needs of farmers so that local food systems can flourish? Attend AFT’s "Opening the Farm Gate to Local Food Systems" session at the February New Partners for Smart Growth Conference for a discussion of growth management and local food system planning, as well as surprising insights about the economics of urban edge agriculture and the impact of local food movements like Slow Food.
Around the Country
The mayor of Honolulu has proposed establishing an agricultural enterprise zone in Waimanalo, Hawaii.
The state legislature of Wisconsin approved more than $600,000 over two years to fund the new "Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin" program.
In New Jersey, Assembly Bill 4259 passed, providing more than $30 million for the state’s farmland protection program.
Voters in Maine approved $17 million for the Land for Maine’s Future program, which funds farmland protection.
Visiting New York City over the holidays? Stop by Magnolia Bakery, where they are donating a portion of the sales from their famed cupcakes to American Farmland Trust.
One out of every six acres developed in California since the Gold Rush was paved over between 1990 and 2004, according to AFT’s new report, Paving Paradise: A New Perspective on California Farmland Conversion.
American Farmland Trust urges Congress to include environmental and conservation safeguards with renewable fuels standards under consideration in the energy and farm bills.