February E-News: Congress Takes Up Conservation and Farmland Protection Efforts Across the Country

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Welcome to the February 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. 

Agriculture Committees Address Conservation at Start of 113th Congress

US Capitol with small American FlagWhile the timing to address the farm bill remains unclear, the Congressional agriculture committees are honing in on priorities for the 113th Congress. The Senate Agriculture Committee’s recent hearing, Drought, Fire and Freeze: The Economics of Disasters for America’s Agricultural Producers, addressed 2012’s natural disasters and the impact on agriculture. Much of the hearing focused on the beneficial role conservation practices play in helping farmers during natural disasters.

In the House, Agriculture Committee members Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) and Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) have reintroduced the Protect Our Prairies Act which would establish a national sodsaver program. The program would limit federal assistance to farmers who break native prairie and grasslands for crop production. “This bill is a commonsense approach to conservation,” said Jon Scholl, president of American Farmland Trust. “It provides needed protection of sensitive lands while retaining landowner decision-making ability.”

Though much attention in Washington is focused on sequestration, the automatic spending cuts scheduled to take effect on March 1, these efforts by Congress to recognize the benefits of on-farm conservation can only help to make a case for conservation funding in the next farm bill.


Report Finds San Joaquin Valley Counties Fall Short in Farmland Protection Efforts

Saving Farmland Growing Cities reportSixty-one percent of all development in California’s San Joaquin Valley is taking place on high quality farmland, says a new report from American Farmland Trust. This development is consuming an acre of land for every 6.4 new residents, the lowest density of any region in the state except the remote mountains and deserts. Saving Farmland, Growing Cities: A Framework for Implementing Effective Farmland Conservation Policies in the San Joaquin Valley, finds that despite their good intentions, local governments in the Valley are not doing enough to conserve irreplaceable farmland as cities continue to expand. “Few communities are even keeping track of how well they are – or, in most cases, are not – living up to their good intentions,” said Edward Thompson, Jr., California Director for American Farmland Trust. “If we are actually going to save San Joaquin Valley farmland and the economic value it represents, this must change.” Read more from Thompson in the Fresno Bee.

Maryland Farmers Gather to Discuss Future of Farming

Jim Baird moderates panel at Maryland conferenceOn January 11 and 12, approximately 250 farmers and stakeholders came together to develop ideas to sustain environmentally sound and productive agriculture in the Washington, D.C. region. The Farming at Metro’s Edge conference featured a keynote address from U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan, panel presentations and roundtable discussions to agree on recommendations to improve profitability and environmental performance in Maryland's Frederick and Montgomery Counties. Successful projects, like the New Farmer Pilot Project and LocaleChesapeake.com's bar code labeling of local foods, were also highlighted. According to Jim Baird, American Farmland Trust’s Mid-Atlantic Director, “This very diverse crowd of farmers, homeowners, environmentalists and open space advocates surprised themselves at the amount of common ground they shared in identifying problems and offering solutions.”  Baird facilitated the event and served as a panelist. He was joined by American Farmland Trust's California Director Ed Thompson, who moderated a panel.

American Farmland Trust Midwest Director Accepts Reappointment to Agricultural Statistics Advisory Committee

Mike Baise, Midwest Director, American Farmland TrustMike Baise, Midwest Director for American Farmland Trust, has recently been reappointed to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Advisory Committee on Agriculture Statistics. In this role, Baise helps to advise the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and NASS on the conduct of the agricultural census and surveys, critical tools in helping to understand the landscape of American agriculture. “I am pleased to be reappointed by Secretary Vilsack,” said Baise. “U.S. farmers, agribusinesses and consumers depend on the valuable information gathered through the various NASS surveys, crop reports and Agricultural Census. NASS employees work hard to provide accurate and timely information so crucial to making sound agricultural policy and business decisions.” Congratulations, Mike!

Updated Guide Helps Connecticut Communities Plan for Agriculture

Connecticut Planning for Agriculture GuideAcross Connecticut, local officials are increasingly cognizant of the economic, social and environmental contributions that farms, farmers and farmland provide to their communities. To help municipal governments find ways to support and grow agriculture at the local level, American Farmland Trust and the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities have updated the very successful joint publication: Planning for Agriculture:  A Guide For Connecticut Municipalities. “Virtually every local municipal board makes decisions that impact local farms,” says Cris Coffin, American Farmland Trust's New England Director. “This publication will help guide local officials in making decisions that not only sustain local farms but help them grow, create new enterprises and steward their farmland for future generations.” The complete guide is available at farmland.org/connecticut.  

Register Online Now: No Farms No Food® Rally, March 13, Albany

2013 No Farms No Food Rally postcard.jpgAmerican Farmland Trust invites you to register online now for the No Farms No Food® Rally, March 13. Join New York farmers, local foods advocates, land trusts and community leaders who care about local farms and food. We will meet with state Legislators to urge them to support funding and legislation that strengthens local food systems. Rally policy priorities include: funding for farmland conservation and environmental protection, increasing purchasing from New York State farms by state-run institutions, and land access for the next generation of farmers. Bring a brown bag lunch made with food grown in New York. Bus transportation roundtrip from NYC to Albany is available.

Working to Get Beginning Farmers on the Land

Beatrice Berle of Berle Farm Renssealer County Transitioning farms to a new generation represents a substantial challenge in New York. American Farmland Trust has spent this winter talking to young farmers at places like the Northeast Organic Farmers Association’s New York conference. “What we hear time and again is that the biggest challenge facing beginning farmers is finding productive farmland that is affordable. We are trying to help,” says American Farmland Trust’s New York State Director David Haight. At the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group conference, we talked about Farmland for the Next Generation, sharing information on our Farmland Advisors training program and the development of the Greater Hudson Valley Farm Link Network.

School Food Summit in New York's Roundout Valley

New York Farm to School SummitNew Yorkers are rebuilding local food systems in communities across the state. At the School Food Summit—held this month at the Roundout Valley High School—parents, farmers, foodservice staff and students prepared a meal from locally sourced food, held a Local Food Fair and talked with the Renegade Lunch Lady Chef Ann Cooper and a panel of school foodservice directors. American Farmland Trust staff joined in, chopping butternut squash and sharing information about our upcoming No Farms No Food® Rally where one of our policy priorities is to improve farm viability by encouraging state-run agencies to purchase more food grown in New York.

Supporting an Increase in Washington State Farmland Funding

Blueberry bushes Skagit ValleyOn February 13, American Farmland Trust organized a group of farmers and farmland advocates to lobby the Washington Legislature for an increase in funding for farmland conservation easements. We met with more than 60 legislators to encourage them to support an increase of $7.7 million in the farmland account. The funding would be used for 22 projects that would collectively protect more than 7,300 acres of farmland. While it will be another tough budget year, there is widespread support for farms and farmers in the state Legislature that we hope to use to secure the additional funding. 

Planning for Agriculture in the Puget Sound Region

water-and-farmland-in-Puget-Sound.jpgAmerican Farmland Trust staff in the Pacific Northwest are preparing for a late April conference on planning for agricultural in the Puget Sound region. “Our aim is to get local planners and officials up to speed on what they can do to protect farms, farmers and local food,” said Ele Watts, lead staff on the project. The team is now identifying speakers who can both inform and inspire, and we welcome suggestions. Call or write the office (206-860-4222 or dcanty@farmland.org).

farmer-holding-tomatoes in sunlight.jpgWestern Washington Foodshed Study Released

American Farmland Trust's Pacific Northwest office released the Western Washington Foodshed Study in mid-December, followed by several media interviews and two presentations to the Regional Food Policy Council. The study is the final result of a two-quarter graduate school course at the University of Washington and considerable work by a 12-member advisory committee. The study concludes that farmers in the region are currently producing about one-quarter of what is eaten here, but a variety of actions at the farmer, processor, retailand consumer levels could bring the total up above half.  

Report Cites Role of Farmers and Communities to Protect Wisconsin Farmland

hay bales on a Wisconsin farmThe Wisconsin Department of Agriculture recently released its assessment of the Agricultural Enterprise Area (AEA) program, part of the state’s Working Lands Initiative passed in 2009 that aids in farmland protection at the local level. Designation of an AEA helps communities promote the future viability of existing agricultural and agriculture-related land use. According to the report, 22 areas covering 510,000 acres have been designated to date and represent a full spectrum of the agricultural profile in Wisconsin. Currently, 61,300 acres are enrolled by farmers who have signed an agreement committing their land to agriculture for a minimum of 15 years and in return receive a per-acre state income tax credit. “AEAs are critical to help local governments to further promote farmland preservation and agricultural economic development in their communities,” notes Bob Wagner, Senior Policy and Program Advisor for American Farmland Trust. Since 2008, American Farmland Trust has actively developed and promoted Wisconsin farmland protection policies and programs. 

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