April E-News: Calling on Congress to Safeguard Conservation Funding in the Next Farm Bill

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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? Check out our Farmland Report blog. 

Make Your Voice Heard: Congress Expected to Begin Farm Bill in May

Connecticut-River-Valley.jpgNext month, Congress is expected to begin consideration of the federal farm bill. The farm bill represents the single greatest federal investment in farmland conservation. Budgetary pressure is greater than ever, and farmland conservation programs could see drastic cuts without your support!

American Farmland Trust needs your help to tell Congress to hold the line on critical funding for conservation programs, including the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program; preserve the Farm Bill’s ability to protect family farm and ranch lands under threat from development; bolster strategic conservation focused on the greatest challenges facing farmers, ranchers, and their land, and that deliver the biggest bang for the taxpayer dollar; and return conservation benefits to taxpayers in exchange for crop insurance premium subsidies.

​Once Congress begins work on the farm bill, things could happen quickly so there is only a brief window of opportunity to make sure our government honors its responsibility to protect and conserve farmland, support family farmers and ensure an abundant supply of affordable healthy food.

Visit American Farmland Trust’s Action Center today to urge your members of Congress to support conservation in the farm bill!


Sustainable Communities Strategies Offer New Hope for Farmland Conservation in California

California_Napa-Valley-and-balloon.jpgRegional planning agencies throughout California are working on “sustainable community strategies” (SCSes) aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by emphasizing more compact community development and alternatives to automobile travel. SCSes offer a new opportunity to conserve farmland by reducing sprawl. At the same time, a recent study from the University of California, Davis, found that urban areas produce at least 70 times more greenhouse gases per acre than agricultural operations. “This lends new urgency to saving farmland as a means of addressing climate change as well as maintaining food production,” explains Edward Thompson, Jr., American Farmland Trust’s California Director. Find out more about SCSes and American Farmland Trust’s goal of reducing the rate of farmland conversion rate by 50 percent.

Report Identifies Obstacles to Adoption of Beneficial Management Practices on California Farms

California-farm-and-water.jpgAccording to a new study from American Farmland Trust, specialty crop growers in California are increasingly adopting beneficial management practices (BMPs); however the significant up-front costs and perceived loss of crop yield are limiting wider adoption. Over the course of eight months, American Farmland Trust polled pecialty crop growers and held focus groups to uncover what would encourage them to try new conservation practices. The study, Encouraging California Specialty Crop Growers to Adopt Environmentally Beneficial Management Practices for Efficient Irrigation and Nutrient Management, highlights effective incentives and outlines recommendations for encouraging more widespread BMP adoption.

Maryland Legislature Cuts Farmland Protection Funds


Despite the successful efforts to defend most open space funding, American Farmland Trust and its partners were dismayed as Maryland legislators slashed support for farmland protection. For the second year in a row, funding for both the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Fund and the Rural Legacy Program was cut by a combined total of $8.7 million. “The trend and timing of these cuts are alarming,” wrote American Farmland Trust’s Mid-Atlantic Director Jim Baird in a recent response to The Baltimore Sun. “Maryland’s commitment to reduce nutrient emissions into the Bay by 2025 will be impossible to attain and maintain without the cooperation of farmers and fully funded conservation programs that protect farms from development.” 

American Farmland Trust Delivers Preservation Local Heroes Award with Representative Glenn Thompson

April 2013 Pennsylvania Local Hero AwardEarlier this month, Jim Baird, Mid-Atlantic Director for American Farmland Trust, traveled to State College to take part in the semi-annual Pennsylvania Farmland Preservation Association (PFPA) conference of county administrators. A highlight of these meetings is the joint AFT-PFPA presentation to honor a local hero for their outstanding efforts to protect farmland, promote environmentally sound farming practices, and keep farmers on the land. Norm Lathbury of Centre Hall most recently received the honor. U.S. Congressman  Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson was there to share his accolades: “Norm Lathbury has been a determined advocate for land conservation, and his work in Centre County has helped local farmers and landowners improve land management and make tremendous environmental gains that will benefit our community now and for decades to come.”  Rep. Thompson, Chair of the Conservation Subcommittee for the House Agriculture Committee, will be a critical player in farm bill discussions over the coming months. 

Meeting the Challenges of Growing Fruits and Vegetables in the Midwest Head-On

carrot-turnip-radish-vegetable-mix.jpgIn the Midwest as with the rest of the nation, fruits and vegetables are getting more attention as a critical part of a healthy diet. At the same time, growers face a myriad of challenges in protecting specialty crops from pests.  On March 20, 2013, American Farmland Trust, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 5 and the North Central Integrated Pest Management Center assembled the leading specialty crop integrated pest management (IPM) researchers to identify the opportunities to strengthen IPM programs on specialty crops in the Midwest region over the next 10 years. “With shrinking resources and shifting priorities, farmers need to keep IPM ‘front and center’ to ensure a safe food supply and deal with new pests and pathogens as our climate changes,” said Ann Sorensen, Director of Research at American Farmland Trust. Learn more about the values of the IPM approach.  

Governor Bullock Preserves Montana's Farm and Ranch Land Protection Legacy 

Montana-Ranch with sunflowers.jpgSupporters of farm and ranch land protection celebrated a victory on April 22 when Montana Governor Steve Bullock vetoed Senate Bill 147. The proposed bill would have removed the critical role of communities to help protect Montana farm and ranch land from development projects. "Agriculture is a vital part of Montana's economy and culture," remarked Governor Bullock. "When evaluation proposed development, a local community must be able to consider both short and long term agricultural impacts." American Farmland Trust leaders urged Governor Bullock to veto the bill and rallied supporters to do the same. Thank you to all who took action to help preserve Montana's farm and ranch land protection legacy. 

Free Educational Opportunity to Learn More about Cover Crops

winter-rye.jpgSuccessful management of cover crops supports soil fertility and quality, clean water, biodiversity and wildlife. In Illinois, American Farmland Trust is working with soil and water conservation district leaders to help educate farmers to reduce fertilizer use—and thus reducing fugitive nutrients—through adoption of cover crops. One of AFT’s partners in Illinois, the National Wildlife Federation, will join the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service on May 7 in a webinar presentation on Exploring the Environmental and Economic Opportunities and Challenges of Cover Crops. “Farmers often ask me, ‘How do I get started on cover crops?’” explains Mike Baise, Midwest Director for American Farmland Trust. “We are working in Illinois to connect farmers with the information and resources they need, and this USDA webinar is a great complement to our work in the state.”

American Farmland Trust Celebrates Massachusetts Agriculture Day

Cris-at-2013-MA-Ag-Day.jpgEarlier this month, American Farmland Trust joined farm, commodity and conservation organizations in educating state legislators about needs and opportunities for Massachusetts agriculture. Top of the list of issues for legislators: an Environmental Bond bill that includes robust funding for programs such as the Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program, the Farm Viability Enhancement Program, and the Massachusetts Farm to School Project. Also on American Farmland Trust’s list of priorities is a statewide food system plan to help prioritize state investments in agriculture and food system infrastructure. Cris Coffin, New England Director for American Farmland Trust, was enthusiastic about this year’s reactions from legislators. “It’s exciting that so many state legislators now see Massachusetts agriculture as a growth industry, with potential for economic opportunity and to improve nutrition and reduce food insecurity,” explained Coffin.  

Preservation of State-owned Farmland at Southbury Training School

Working Lands Alliance LogoIn Connecticut, American Farmland Trust is focusing efforts on a key piece of legislation (HB 6542) that would preserve more than 800 acres of state-owned farmland at Southbury Training School. This important and potentially precedent-setting bill would permanently protect a large tract of prime farmland and could set the stage for the preservation of other key farmland parcels owned by the state. “This bill provides us an important opportunity to not only protect prime agricultural lands in a part of a state where it is needed, but to also significantly increase the pace of farmland preservation in the state by preserving state-held lands. The importance of this effort cannot be overstated,” said Lisa Bassani, Project Director for Working Lands Alliance, a project of American Farmland Trust. Two legislative committees have voted favorably on the bill thus far as it makes its way through the legislative process. American Farmland Trust and the Working Lands Alliance will continue to advocate for the bill, which is an important part of our 2013 legislative agenda.

Brand New Online Videos and Infographics on Saving New York Farmland Now Available!

NFNF-Engagement-Video.jpgEver hear the saying, “Our kids don’t know where their food comes from; they think it comes from the grocery store?” Today, though more people shop at farmers markets, they still don’t know where their food comes from – local farmland.  And, we are losing farmland fast!  In New York we have lost 4,500 farms since the 1980s. We recently produced a set of online videos and infographics about the importance of saving farmland from development. Help save farmland in New York State. Check out these videos and infographics. Share them online with your friends. And remember—No Farms No Food®!

Hudson Valley Food Hubs Report Released

Cover-page-HVFH-Report-Executive-Summary.jpgThe Hudson Valley Food Hubs Initiative’s Research Findings and Recommendations has just been released. The report explores escalating distribution of local foods, supporting farm economies and strengthening Hudson Valley regional food systems and communities through food hubs. The report is spearheaded by the New World Foundation’s Local Economies Project with a research team led by Sarah Brannen and Columbia University’s Urban Design Lab. “Expanding local food distribution capacity is critical to farm products into institutions and expanding sales for farmers,” said David Haight, New York State Director for American Farmland Trust.  “This report provides important insights into changes needed in the Hudson Valley.”  

Partnership Protects Seven Hudson Valley Farms

scenic-hudson-cows.jpgSeven working farms in the Hudson Valley are now protected from development thanks to combined support from the federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, Scenic Hudson, Dutchess County, the Town of Red Hook, the Columbia Land Conservancy and the Dutchess Land Conservancy. 1,265 acres of farmland have been protected with conservation easements at a cost $5 million. The farms produce fruits, vegetables, milk, hay and grains. “Ensuring that our farmers have access to the land they need to grow their products is vitally important to economic development and food security in New York,” said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

Washington State Farmland Funding in Jeopardy

Blueberry-bushes-Skagit-Valley-drop left.jpgWashington State is in the waning days of the legislative session, and funding for farmland protection is at risk. The good news: Governor Inslee requested $6.3 million, the House $5.8 million, and the Senate $5.3 million in farmland protection funding. The bad news: Although the Senate version of the budget eliminates the allocation formula for the program this funding is delivered through (the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program), pressure to restor the formula could result in a Senate funding level of ZERO. American Farmland Trust is continuing to rally farmers and farm advocates to contact their legislators to keep the funding level in the $5 million+ territory. Call the office (206-860-4222) if you’d like to help.

Top National Speakers Slated for Puget Sound Conference on Planning for Agriculture

farmer-and-carrot-picking.pngOn April 26, American Farmland Trust will host a conference on Planning for Agriculture in the Puget Sound Region at the University of Washington, and it appears that every one of the 100 seats will be filled! “We’re very excited to have a first-rate group of national and regional speakers for the conference,” said Dennis Canty, Pacific Northwest Director for American Farmland Trust. “We’re hoping that this changes the trajectory of farmland protection in the region.” Speakers from Pennsylvania, Vermont and California will share their stories about how they’ve protected farms, farmers and local food in their communities.

New Funding for a Major Planting Event in the Snoqualmie Valley

hands-planting-fir-tree.jpgAmerican Farmland Trust is excited to learn that our Pacific Northwest office received $40,000 from Wells Fargo Bank and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for a major community planting event in the Snoqualmie Valley this fall. The event will be turning out large crews of volunteers on at least six farms in the community to re-plant native streamside buffers and then gathering everyone for a lunch to discuss local food and farm initiatives. Watch for more information this summer about this must-do event.

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