Looking Toward the 2012 Farm Bill, Advancing Opportunities for Farmland Protection, and Connecting Health and Local Farms

American Farmland Trust
American Farmland Trust

E-News April 6, 2011
Welcome to the April issue of E-news. Click here to view a version of E-news on the web. Can't wait until next month's E-news to hear more about farms, food, and the environment? Check out our Farmland Report blog where we post regular updates about our work across the country and in the nation's capital.


USDA Report Offers Good News and a Look to the Future in the Bay

Heron-in-Maryland.jpgThe Conservation Effects Assessment Project Cropland Report, released by the USDA, showed that voluntary incentive-based efforts by farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed have helped in reducing runoff. The report, which demonstrates the active participation of farmers in helping to improve Bay water quality, is a valuable tool for guiding conservation programs moving forward. In 2010 alone, farmers in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia who participated in our BMP Challenge reduced fertilizer runoff by 51,225 pounds—nearly 26 pounds per acre or more than 1,970 pounds per farmer! The progress is significant, but there is more work left to be done in cleaning up the Bay, a process that will continue to involve work with farmers in the region to improve conservation practices.

Good News for Farmland Protection Funding in Maryland, but Uncertainty Remains

Maryland-Farm-in-Spring.jpgThank you for your help in asking the Maryland General Assembly to reject proposals that would impact land conservation programs. The House budget kept all proposed funding for Program Open Space—and we hope you express your appreciation to the Delegate in your district! Just this week, the Senate adopted the House’s recommendation to preserve funding for Program Open Space on the local level. However, other programs—including state level funding for Program Open Space, Rural Legacy and Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation—were cut from the Senate’s budget and will debated with the House in conference. Once the Capital Budget conferees are known, we hope you will join us again to be a voice in protecting Maryland's central land conservation mechanism.

New England

 New Loan Program for Beginning Farmers

Pandstevemelnik(2).jpgFarm Credit East, Yankee Farm Credit and CoBank are offering a new program to address a major hurdle for new farm businesses—initial access to capital. Farm Start is a beginning farmer loan program that will provide investments in working capital of up to $50,000 to farmers, forestry producers, fishermen and farm related service businesses and cooperatives in their first three years of business. A business plan is required, and participants will have up to five years to repay the loan.  

University of Vermont and Intervale Center Offer New Farmer Apprentice Program

 Lake-ChamplaignVT.jpgThe University of Vermont, in partnership with the Intervale Center, has created a five-month intensive program for aspiring farmers and food systems advocates that provides a hands-on, entrepreneurial approach to sustainable farming. The full-time program offers participants the unique opportunity to manage their own growing site, take classes from professors and farmers, and rotate as workers and learners between successful, diverse farms at the award-winning Intervale Center in Burlington, Vermont. The program will provide an intense, supportive experience where participants leave with a Certificate in Sustainable Farming, a deeper understanding of agricultural management and small-scale farming, and the entrepreneurial skills to start their own operation.

New York

No Farms No Food® Rally & Lobby Day 2011 a Huge Success

No-Farms-No-Food-Rally-&-Lo.jpgNearly 200 land trust leaders, farmers, food advocates and other New Yorkers gathered at the State Capitol on March 30 to engage more than 120 legislators and staff in productive dialogue about the importance of farms and local food to the state’s economy and food security. Participants enjoyed a local foods lunch and heard remarks from Agriculture Committee Chair Senator Patty Ritchie and Assemblyman Bill Magee, as well as new Commissioner of Agriculture Darrel Aubertine, among others.

State Budget Sustains Critical Funds for Farms and Food

NY-Capitol-pic.jpgIn the wee hours of March 31, the New York State Legislature passed a 2011-2012 budget sustaining critical funding for farms, local foods and saving farmland. The budget increases funding for farmland protection for the first time in three years. This is a significant victory in light of the fact that the state Farmland Protection Program’s funding has been cut by 83 percent since 2008. The budget also restores funding to numerous agricultural programs threatened with elimination during budget negotiations, including agricultural marketing programs and economic development programs such as the New York Farm Viability Institute and Pro Dairy.

Growing the Economy Through Food Processing

Farm-2-Table-Co-Packers.jpgSlicing and Dicing our Way to New Jobs and Economic Opportunities, a webinar, scheduled for 1 pm on April 20, is the third in a series of webinars aimed at helping communities support agriculture and protect farmland. This webinar will examine the development of a local food processing facility, Farm to Table Co-Packers, located in the Hudson Valley, with a presentation by Farm 2 Table partner Jim Hyland. Chris Harmon, Executive Director of the Center for Agricultural Development and Entrepreneurship (CADE), located in Otsego County, will discuss how communities can help farmers expand their businesses and create jobs and opportunities for residents.

Pacific Northwest

Don-Stuart-Farewell.jpgA Fond Farewell to Don Stuart

More than 30 farmers, farm organization leaders, and partners attended the send-off for Don Stuart on March 25. Don has officially retired as our director for the Pacific Northwest region, although he continues to help as a consultant on our Skagit County farmland protection and ecosystem services projects

Update on Farmland Protection in Skagit County

Skagit-Valley-Farm.jpgAt a March 17 meeting with the county's farmland protection leaders, we presented two different strategies for their property-tax-funded purchase of development rights program. The first would concentrate purchases on the edge of the existing towns and the Interstate 5 corridor in order to halt sprawl into farm areas. The second focused funds on large blocks of contiguous farmland away from developed areas. The decision was made to try to craft a hybrid of the two. The Skagit County program is the most active in the state and has protected more than 7,000 acres of farmland to date.

Nominations Being Accepted for 2011 Governor’s Smart Communities Awards

Apple-Orchard.jpgGovernor Gregoire has invited nominations for outstanding work by local governments and their partners on community planning and development. The values and priorities of each community are apparent from their individual plans for how they want to look and function 20 or 50 years from now. For one community it may be an emphasis on supporting agriculture, another on prioritizing their downtown redevelopment—but it all adds up to shared vision, tough decisions and partnerships. Though we often hear about the controversies and debates, neighbors, farmers, business people and public officials are not only planning, but putting their plans into reality to make communities vibrant and livable.

The awards have been an annual event since 2006. Nominations are being sought in the following categories: Smart Vision Award for Comprehensive Planning, Smart Choices Award for Implementation of a Comprehensive Plan, and Smart Partnerships Award for Development Project to Implement a Comprehensive Plan.

Nominations are being accepted through May 4, 2011.


Attend Hearings Starting April 8 to Determine Fate of Farmland

Wisconsin BarnThank you for voicing opposition to Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposal to eliminate the state's Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement program. Together we have built critical momentum around this issue. Now we have an important opportunity to be heard by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance, which will act on the governor’s budget proposal. The committee has announced a series of hearings that begin this week. Farmland protection supporters can speak directly to members of this powerful committee at these hearings. Help protect farmland in Wisconsin by attending a hearing and telling your own personal stories about why farmland protection is important to you!

Main Stories

Tipoff for the 2012 Farm Bill

barn-with-heart.jpgEnsuring a healthy future for our land and food requires thoughtful and strategic planning. The decisions that Congress makes for the 2012 Farm Bill are starting now; they will impact not only taxpayers but anyone who relies on food, fuel and fiber from America's farm and ranch land. Our president Jon Scholl reflects on some of the challenges and opportunities that should be addressed for a smarter farm bill.

Growing Support to Make an Important Conservation Tool Permanent

FarmersCongress' one year renewal of the Conservation Easement Incentive Act last December was great news for protecting our working lands, making it economically feasible for thousands of farmers and ranchers to conserve their land and keep it in farming. Forty Representatives have enlisted as original co-sponsors and we have added our voice to support a permanent extension for this incentive that will allow more landowners to chose conservation—but legislative strength for the bill will require a much broader foundation! If your Representative has not already signed on, you can help us grow the list of co-sponsors in the House.

A Region’s Viewpoint on Food and Farming

Lettuce.jpgLocal policy makers and planners are now taking a holistic look at healthy, local food—from its importance in creating jobs to combating obesity to keeping farmland in farming and protecting the environment. In February, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) released a ground-breaking food system plan that identifies opportunities to develop the regional economy and strengthen farming while improving public health, protecting soil and water, and encouraging diversity, innovation and collaboration. Eating Here: The Greater Philadelphia Food System Plan identifies shared values and goals, develops a set of indicators and provides 52 recommendations for a secure and sustainable regional food system. 

Opportunity for Farm-to-School Programs?

farmtoschool.jpgUSDA Secretary Vilsack announced the expansion of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, a 2008 Farm Bill authorized initiative to provide more fresh, healthy food to children in schools. Increasingly, schools are turning to local farms as the source for improving lunches. Such support could help bolster the relationship between schools and local farms, a connection that would have positive implications for new programs across the country, such as this pilot farm-to-school program in Loudoun County, Virginia.

Around the Country

University of California, Davis researchers are studying the projected effects of losing the state’s premiere farmland preservation tool. The potential result was found to be detrimental for California’s ranchland and wildlife habitat.

In Ann Arbor, Michigan, county leaders and a local greenbelt advisory commission have come together to include purchase of agricultural conservation easements in the natural areas preservation program.

The Land Stewardship Project in southern Minnesota is taking a unique approach to fostering discussion about preserving farmland for the next generation by creating a dramatic play about farmland ownership and development.

The Miami Valley Planning Commission in Ohio is asking residents to vote on seven future development scenarios for the region, with farmland protection a principle tenet in two of the future land use scenarios.

The Nebraska Corn Growers Association and the Aurora Cooperative have partnered with the American Red Cross to hold a grain donation drive for disaster relief efforts in Japan. Farmers can donate their grain at 19 different locations throughout Nebraska, now through July 30. 

In an effort to slim down the Utah state budget, lawmakers have cut the LeRay McAllister Fund for agricultural and open land conservation, thereby removing the only state program that qualifies for federal conservation dollars.

Paul Quinn College, located in the Highland Hills Community outside of Dallas, Texas, has gone against the grain to convert its football field to an organic farm.

The Conservation Trust for North Carolina and Land for Tomorrow coalition have found a significant financial payoff from investing in conservation programs for that state.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is making more than $1 million in Consumer Block Grants available to fund projects by various entities that will help local farmers grow more profitable crops.

Farmers near Charleston, South Carolina, have begun to notice a significant surge in both the amount of growers and customers who are participating in the Community Supported Agriculture model.

Biannual seminars run by the Agricultural Land Preservation Program in Hartford, Connecticut, introduce landowners to conservation easements.

New York Senator Charles E. Schumer (D) has announced his proposal of a contribution to the 2012 Farm Bill.  Schumer’s “Maple Tap Act” will provide grant funding to states that create programs to encourage landowners to offer up their trees for maple tapping.

The USDA will provide nearly $6 million in funding to five partners in Georgia, Idaho, Iowa and Missouri to help achieve water quality goals in wetlands.

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels had a friendly wager hanging on the VCU-Butler Final Four basketball game. The currency?—local food products from their respective states.

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