Fighting to Protect Farmland Through the Next Farm Bill

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Welcome to the March 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? Check out our Farmland Report blog.


Ask Congress to Invest Wisely in Farmland Protection

Aerial view of urban sprawlAs Congress debates the 2012 Farm Bill, the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program is being reviewed and re-assessed. The program has proven to be a cost-effective contributor to locally-driven strategies to protect farmland and support farmers and their communities, bridging federal funds with state, local and private dollars to protect more than 810,000 acres of rich, agricultural lands. Despite the critical need to protect the nation’s farmland, the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program has already faced disproportionate cuts in the 2011 "Super Committee" process—more than 30 percent of all cuts slated for conservation programs. As Bob Wagner, Senior Policy and Program Advisor at American Farmland Trust, explains: “an effective Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program—one that will ensure a productive and healthy future for American agriculture—will require adequate funding.” Please. Ask your members of Congress to not cut additional funding from the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program. We must do all we can to keep what funding we have and invest it wisely.


Will Proposed Urban Growth Limits Help Protect Farmland in the San Joaquin Valley?

Stanislaus County MapStanislaus County mayors have proposed urban growth boundaries for 2050. This proposal appears to be a first for cities in the San Joaquin Valley, intended to protect farmland that surrounds most of the cities in the Valley. While the mayors’ intentions are praiseworthy, it remains to be seen if the recommended boundaries will result in conserving the county’s best farmland. Using data from the U.C. Davis Center for the Environment, American Farmland Trust California Director Ed Thompson found that one quarter of all the prime farmland in Stanislaus County falls within the proposed boundaries. Moreover, the boundaries outlined by some cities include seven to nine times as much land as will be needed for anticipated population growth. This precedent-setting process is now instigating a county-wide dialogue on farmland protection among policy makers and the general public. Still, as Thompson explained to The Modesto Bee, Stanislaus County continues to lead the way in promoting land use policies to save farmland in the Valley. Though not perfect, he explains, “they’re talking about the right things.”


Threats to Farmland Protection Funding in Maryland!

Farm on a hillsideThe Maryland General Assembly is making budget decisions now that will directly impact farms and farmers in Maryland. Currently, the state Senate is debating whether to back Governor O’Malley’s proposal to fully fund farmland protection programs or to support a counter proposal from the Assembly’s Department of Legislative Services that would divert these much-needed funds. The Senate budget committee recently voted to shift Program Open Space funds, slashing 75 percent of farmland protection funding. As Jim Baird, Mid-Atlantic Director for American Farmland Trust, explains, “Farmland protection dollars are at an all-time low. We must do all we can to keep what funding we have or we risk losing it for good.” As an executive committee member of the Partners for Open Space coalition, American Farmland Trust has joined in rallying dozens of organizations to ask Maryland lawmakers to make farmland protection a priority. As cuts in the Senate are likely, the battle will move to the house next week. Stay tuned for opportunities to help defend farmland protection funding in Maryland.


Vermont Lawmakers Move Toward Greater Investment in Working Lands

cow in green pastureThe proposed Working Lands Enterprise Fund, an initiative focused on boosting Vermont agriculture as part of the state economy, has improved its prospect for passage thanks to recent actions from two state legislative committees. The House Appropriations Committee set aside $2.1 million to be considered for the Working Lands Enterprise Fund if enacted, and the Senate Economic Development Committee voted favorably to report the bill out after making changes to it. The proposed fund, and the board that would oversee it, would have three focal points: grants and loans to land-based and value-added farm businesses that are new or want to grow; wrap-around services for the growth phases of start-up working lands enterprises; and necessary infrastructure to support cluster development and spur business success and rural prosperity.

Working Lands Alliance Testifies to Enhance Farmland Protection in Connecticut

Working Lands Alliance logoKip Kolesinskas, Steering Committee member of the Working Lands Alliance, a project of American Farmland Trust, recently testified at the Connecticut State Capitol in support of a bill regarding the state’s Open Space Plan. The bill would require a regular update of the plan, identify lands owned and managed by the state that would be valuable for conservation, and make recommendation to develop a registry to accurately keep track of preserved lands. As Kolesinkskas, who also serves as a consultant to American Farmland Trust, noted:  “A statewide registry of protected lands would be useful for monitoring easements on protected farmland as well as setting and implementing municipal open space and farmland preservation goals. Knowing what lands that are critical to protect, or develop is essential to smart growth, natural resource protection, climate change adaptation, food security, and economic development. It will ensure that public and private investments are used effectively and efficiently.”   


Farmland Protection Funding Supported by State Senate and Assembly

New York State Capitol with horse statueThe New York Senate and Assembly released proposed budgets last week with good news for farmland protection. Lawmakers have joined the governor in proposing to keep funding for the Farmland Protection Program at $12 million in Fiscal Year 2012-2013. They have also proposed maintaining the Environmental Protection Fund, which pays for the Farmland Protection Program, at $134 million. What’s more, both the Assembly and Senate are now seriously looking at increasing funding for the Environmental Protection Fund by redirecting existing unclaimed bottle deposits that currently goes into the general fund. The state collects approximately $115 million from unclaimed bottle deposits annually. 

Thinking Outside the Box in Central New York

New York farm sunsetCentral New York is abuzz with talk about regional agricultural economic development. American Farmland Trust recently embarked on a tour of the region led by Maryland-based Agricultural & Community Development Services’ Phillip Gottwals. Drawing on his experience in food and farm development, Gottwals stressed the importance of “thinking regionally because economic development does not respect political boundaries.” Roundtables in Cayuga and Seneca Counties explored regional agricultural economic development models, including the Hudson Valley Agri-Business Development Corporation. As a capstone speaker at the Tompkins County Agricultural Summit, Gottwals challenged the audience to think broadly about markets for local farmers, citing the great potential of Northeast and Atlantic Coast markets.

No Small Potatoes: Farm-to-School on Long Island

Long Island farm-to-schoolImagine this. A Long Island school serving potatoes grown on Long Island for lunch. It’s true! Bay Shore Schools on Long Island’s East End recently showcased their pilot Farm-to-School program with an event featuring East End mini potatoes. The local tubers were prepared by the school’s Food and Careers Gourmet Club students and served in the school cafeteria. The project is the brainchild of Janet Sklar, director of nutritional services for the school. Since the program’s launch last fall, Long Island school districts have purchased, prepared and served 18,000 pounds of potatoes as part of 72,000 school lunches.


Protecting Farmland in the Puget Sound Basin

Dennis Canty present King County awardDennis Canty, American Farmland Trust Pacific Northwest Director, has been traveling the Puget Sound Region to present the 2012 Farmland Champion Award. The first-annual award goes to the county councils of the three counties whose farmland protection policies scored at the top in American Farmland Trust’s recent analysis. The study, which provides recommendations for farmland loss, continues to get a lot of attention. The development of farmland, explained Canty in a recent interview, is “so incremental that it can happen and nobody notices. And if we really want local food, if we really want a healthy environment in the Puget Sound, if we really want farmers as part of our communities, we have to stop this.” Be on the lookout for a half-hour interview with Canty that will air on March 24 on the KEXP show Mind Over Matters.    

Most Threatened Farm Landscapes

Washington State farmland and farmerLook for American Farmland Trust staff this month throughout the Pacific Northwest. We are hitting the road in late March to visit farmers and community leaders in the Yamhill, Wallowa, Kootenai, Spokane, and Methow valleys as part of our project to identify the most threatened farm landscapes in the region. We hope that the project will stimulate additional efforts to protect these areas from urban sprawl, second home development, competition for limited water, and other threats.  We will be releasing a report on this project this summer.

A Sneak Peak at Western Washington Foodshed Study

Farmer packging apples to sellThe University of Washington students working on an upcoming foodshed study for American Farmland Trust is finishing their analysis on what we grow versus what we eat in the 19 western counties of the state. A report on the results and on how to build a more local food system is scheduled for release later this spring. The study indicates that we are currently capable of growing about 43 percent of what we eat in the region, but could increase this to more than 60 percent with initiatives to bring previously farmed land into production, strengthen producer-to-consumer links, and reduce food waste.

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