March E-News: Preliminary 2012 Census of Agriculture Data




American Farmland Trust
Spring Farm

Welcome to the March issue of E-news. 

Preliminary 2012 Census of Agriculture Data

Census of AgPreliminary 2012 Census of Agriculture data, issued by the USDA Agricultural Statistics Service in February, suggest threats to the farm economy and the future of the agricultural landscape. Land in farms declined from 922 million acres in 2007 to less than 915 million acres in 2012. Although this amounts to a change of less than 1 percent, it represents a continuation of a decades-long downward trend. Forty million fewer acres are in production than in 1997, and 72 million fewer than 1982.

But here’s the rub, "We don’t really know what happened to this land," says Jennifer Dempsey, director of American Farmland Trust’s Farmland Information Center. "In rapidly growing areas it is likely that land taken out of production was developed, but we can’t say for sure." The census collects information about land included in farm operations, agricultural production and operator characteristics but does not track changes to the rural land base upon which agriculture depends.

The final 2012 Census of Agriculture is slated for release in May. Look for our insights and analysis later this spring.

Save the Date! American Farmland Trust's National Conference on Farmland, Food and Livable Communities  Lexington, Kentucky, October 20–22, 2014

2014NationaConference.Edit.jpgThe Farmland, Food and Livable Communities conference will bring together leading experts from around the country for the first nationwide conference focused on farming, land use and policy. Leaders and experts will gather to focus on the overlapping interests of farmland protection, women and next generation farmers, food systems and creating resilient communities that address food and agriculture.

"This is the first time a national conference will bring together these diverse interests to comprehensively address 21st-century challenges," said Andrew McElwaine, President and CEO of American Farmland Trust. Keynote speakers and local and national leaders will showcase innovative approaches, successful strategies and replicable models. Participants will not only learn from best-in-class practices, planning, policy and investment but also craft next steps to advance work in these areas.

Save the date! Join American Farmland Trust in Lexington, Kentucky, October 20–22, 2014. Sign up now to receive more information about American Farmland Trust’s Farmland, Food and Livable Communities conference.

American Farmland Trust Farm Bill Webinar Archives Available

US CapitolAmerican Farmland Trust recently partnered with the National Association of Conservation Districts and other groups to host a series of webinars to explore what is new for conservation programs in the 2014 Farm Bill. The webinars covered a variety of farmland conservation topics in the new law.

"As USDA rapidly begins to implement the new law, it is important that information on new programs is available," said American Farmland Trust Policy Director Jeremy Peters.

If you missed any of the webinars, they have been archived on American Farmland Trust’s 2014 Farm Bill Web page. You can view recordings of the webinars and slides of materials presented. Thanks to our partners that helped present this series of webinars: National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Strategic Conservation Solutions, Izaak Walton League of America, and National Corn Growers Association.

USDA has created a 2014 Farm Bill web page, which includes multiple resources available to learn more about the Farm Bill and how it impacts you.


American Farmland Trust-Sponsored "Sustainable Farmland Strategy" Bill Introduced in California

CA fieldRecognizing the fundamental impact local government land use decisions have on California’s farms and ranches, American Farmland Trust is co-sponsoring the new Sustainable Farmland Strategy legislation (AB 1961) introduced in February 2014 by Assembly Agriculture Chair Susan Talamantes Eggman. The bill would require California counties to complete an assessment of their agriculturally zoned lands, review their policies and adopt a plan to retain land for farming and ranching.

"Despite all efforts to conserve California farmland since the 1980’s, this irreplaceable resource continues to be converted to non-agricultural uses at the rate of 30,000 acres per year," explains American Farmland Trust’s California Director, Edward Thompson, Jr. "If this continues, the state will lose another million acres of farmland by 2050, further narrowing the options for its $40 billion agricultural industry at a time when climate change, drought and other forces also put our food supply at risk." American Farmland Trust is encouraging interested parties to send letters of support for the bill to Assemblymember Eggman before April 2, 2014.

Plans to Guide Sustainable Development in the San Joaquin Valley Being Released

CA  farm hikerSeveral counties in the San Joaquin Valley are releasing drafts of sustainable transportation and land use plans designed to plan for future regional development while helping meet the state’s ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals. The Sustainable Community Strategies (SCS) being developed under climate legislation adopted in California are intended to find a balance among the increasing demands on the San Joaquin Valley land base while meeting the future infrastructure needs of a growing population.

"The growing competition for land between farmers and developers will only increase in the San Joaquin Valley as the region is expected to nearly double in population by 2050," explains American Farmland Trust’s San Joaquin Valley Field Representative Daniel O’Connell. "The SCS process offers us leverage to advocate for the conservation of farmland by suggesting these investments should go to existing neighborhoods rather than new subdivisions. The results will not be limited to farmland saved, but also include improved air quality, incentivized mixed-use development, and healthier citizens with increased options to walk and bike."

Keep Dedicated Funding for Maryland’s Farmland and Open Space Where It Belongs

MD-budget-committee-hearing.jpgIn 1969, the Maryland Legislature created Program Open Space to preserve farmland, parks and environmental lands along with an established dedicated funding source from real estate transactions. “This has enabled Maryland to be a national leader in protecting farms, yet the track record of using these funds for their intended purpose has been far from stellar,” said Jim Baird Mid-Atlantic director of American Farmland Trust.

Previous administrations and legislatures frequently raided the funds. While some money has been paid back, an astonishing billion dollars has not been used to protect land as intended. Governor Martin O’Malley faithfully supported full funding for farm and other land protection in previous budgets, but this year he proposed $60 million be diverted to the general fund and the General Assembly may divert even more.

“With the third highest rate of farmland loss in the country, Maryland needs every penny of these funds,” says Baird. “We understand that economic times are tough, but land conservation has already lost too much.” It is time to say gambling with our future is not OK – contact your state Senator.

American Farmland Trust celebrates the sale of the nation’s first interstate water quality trading credits

Ohio RiverOn March 11, 2014, the Ohio River Basin Water Quality Trading pilot program celebrated the sale of the nation’s first interstate water quality stewardship credits. Water Quality Trading (WQT) allows facilities to meet required pollution reductions by paying farmers to install conservation practices like heavy use protection areas for livestock and cover crops that reduce pollution by specific amounts.  The resulting pollution reductions become verified credits that can be bought and sold. "American Farmland Trust provided hands-on help to farmers, state agricultural and resource agencies, and soil and water conservation districts to ensure the benefits were there for both farmers and the environment," said American Farmland Trust’s Brian Brandt, the project’s agricultural coordinator. "We also brought our experience with trading programs in other regions of the country to help the project." American Farmland Trust’s President, Andrew McElwaine, was on hand to introduce Indiana State Conservationist Jane Hardisty during the festivities, and Brian Brandt questioned the farmers about their experiences.

National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health

CoverCrop.jpgThe National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health, held February 17-19, 2014, in Omaha, Nebraska, brought 300 agricultural leaders and innovators together to explore how to make American agriculture more sustainable through improved soil health. Attendees from agricultural industry, the farm community, academia, government, commodity and conservation organizations wrestled with the question "Can we achieve 20 million acres of cover crops by 2020?" Jen Filipiak, who was in attendance for American Farmland Trust, said, "The first full day we learned about new research with cover crops and soil health. The second day was divided into small working groups to address barriers to cover crop adoption–-what research, outreach, or markets need to be developed?"

The plenary sessions, recorded and available online, were broadcast at more than 200 Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Extension offices nationwide to an additional 6,000 farmers and agricultural professionals, allowing them to participate and engage in local conversations. The conference was sponsored by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) and The Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

Women Caring for the Land Conservation Discussion in Sycamore, Illinois

WomenFarmlandOwnersBureauCountyFarm.jpgOn March 31, 2014, American Farmland Trust, Women Food and Agriculture Network, and DeKalb County Farm Bureau are co-hosting a “Women Caring for the Land” conservation discussion and free field tour in Sycamore, Illinois. Women who own or manage farmland in DeKalb and surrounding counties are invited to participate. "This free workshop offers a unique opportunity for women landowners to come together to share and learn about land conservation options," said Dan Kenney, with the DeKalb County Farmland Foundation. Staff from the sponsoring organizations, the Natural Resources Conservation Services and Kane County will be on hand to discuss conservation and farmland preservation options.  Space is limited for this unique opportunity–-RSVP to Teresa Bullock at American Farmland Trust by emailing or calling 815-753-6365.

Successful Conservation Cropping Seminar was Held in Normal, Illinois

DrJoelGruver.jpgOn March 13, 2014, the final of three successful Conservation Cropping Seminars was held at Heartland Community College in Normal, Illinois.  "We were ecstatic at the response to these seminars," remarked Joe Bybee, with the Illinois Department of Agriculture. "Approximately 450 farmers, industry, academia and government agency staff were present for some great discussion."  The seminars’ theme was managing conservation cropping systems-–utilizing together three best management practices: cover crops, conservation tillage, and nutrient management. "Farmers often say they want more time to chat with their peers, industry professionals, and researchers," commented Robert "Woody" Woodruff with the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, "So we included one and a half hours at each session to networking, and it was successful!"  About 20 businesses and organizations co-sponsored the events, including American Farmland Trust, Monsanto,Illinois Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.  Plans for 2015 are underway-–January 27th in DeKalb, February 4th in Mattoon and February 18th in Macomb.

Working Lands Alliance Releases Recommendations from Farmland Access Forum 

Dairy farmersThis past fall, Working Lands Alliance, American Farmland Trust, and numerous partners hosted a Farmland Access and Affordability forum, generously sponsored by Farm Credit East and an anonymous donor. The forum provided an opportunity to delve into farmland access and affordability issues in Connecticut, as well as learn about successfully employed approaches in the region.

Working Lands Alliance recently released the summary from the forum, which includes a list of 'Priorities for Action in 2014'. These priorities were developed based on input received at the Forum, as well as follow up meetings the host organizations have had as part of a Farmland Access Working Group. "WLA and our partners look forward to working closely with the CT Department of Agriculture and other key organizations and agencies as we focus on these action items over the coming year," said Lisa Bassani, Working Lands Alliance project director.

Download the Farmland Access and Affordability Forum summary.

Working Lands Alliance Sponsors Essay Contest for Agriscience Students and 4-H members

CT applesWorking Lands Alliance is sponsoring an essay contest for high school-level agriscience students, Future Farmers of America members, and 4-H members in Connecticut. The contest asks these students to consider the role that both farmland protection and agrisicence schools/4-H programs might play in meeting the goal of increasing the consumption of Connecticut-grown food and farm products from the current level of 2 percent to 10 percent. "We are looking forward to engaging these bright young minds on a topic that is critical to the success of agriculture in Connecticut," said Terry Jones, chairman of the Working Lands Alliance.

The top three winners will receive cash prizes, and these winners and four honorable mentions will enjoy a Connecticut-grown dinner with Governor Malloy and Commissioner of Agriculture Reviczky at the Winvian estate in the Litchfield Hills.  

For details and submission information, please click here.

American Farmland Trust Completes Model Agricultural Conservation Easement Project

NEModel-Ag-Easement-seminarphoto.jpgOn February 28 and March 15, American Farmland Trust and its partners hosted the final two seminars for its Model Agricultural Easement project. Attendees included a diverse group of attorneys, municipal planners and commission members, land trust representatives, and agency staff. The goal of the project, funded through an Agricultural Viability grant provided by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, was to improve understanding among attorneys and conservation entities about farming protected land and the challenges specific to agriculture. "Land trusts and municipalities in Connecticut have shown a real interest in supporting the growth of agriculture, and the model agricultural easement is an important tool in protecting the conservation values as well as the economic viability of our farms," said Kip Kolesinskas, American Farmland Trust consulting conservation scientist.

The resources developed through this project will provide important guidance to conservation entities throughout the state when drafting agricultural easements and can be downloaded on American Farmland Trust’s Connecticut Web page.

American Farmland Trust, Beekman 1802, and Culinary Institute of America Host Film Screening for Students

The-First-Season-Screening.jpgFarmers and chefs have a lot in common. Farmers grow food. Chefs prepare food. They are vital links in our food chain. American Farmland Trust, the Fabulous Beekman Boys and The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) are screening The First Season, a powerful documentary film about dairy farming, to encourage thoughtful dialogue between CIA students and a panel of dairy farmers, cheese producers and dairy distributors regarding the future of dairy farming in New York and the role of farmland conservation in protecting the land necessary for the success of the dairy industry. The First Season, directed by Hollywood producer Rudd Simmons, depicts the struggles of an upstate New York couple as they start their own dairy farm. The screening and panel discussion will be held on March 31 at the CIA in Hyde Park.

Farm Transfer and Estate Planning Workshop, April 8 

March 2014 wrkshp flyer HVFLN resized for enews.jpgA workshop for farm families on estate planning and transferring farm businesses to the next generation will be hosted by American Farmland Trust, the Agricultural Stewardship Association, and New York FarmNet/FarmLink on April 8 in Washington County, New York. The workshop will cover nuts and bolts considerations for farm and estate planning, communication tools for working through family and business issues, agricultural conservation options for farmland including the purchase of development rights, and resources to help participants with the entire planning process. The featured presenter will be attorney and certified public accountant John Lavelle of Lavelle & Finn, LLP. The workshop will be held on Tuesday, April 8, at the Boneyard BBQ, in Greenwich from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. This workshop is organized by the Hudson Valley Farmlink Network, a partnership of organizations dedicated to facilitating farm transfers and making farmland accessible to the next generation of farmers in the Hudson Valley.  Workshop registration information can be found here.

Farmers, Local Government and Land Trusts Lobby New York Legislature 

AFT lobby day.jpgAmerican Farmland Trust and a team of farmers and representatives from local government and land trusts met with legislators last week to advocate for funding for the state Farmland Protection Program beyond the $1 million increase proposed by Governor Cuomo in his executive budget. The Farmland Protection Program is part of the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), which the Governor proposed funding at $157 million, a $4 million increase. In the house budgets, which came out last week, the Assembly proposed increasing the EPF to $167 million while the Senate proposed $200 million in funding by putting $47 million from the state’s Superfund into the EPF, of which $43 million will go to improve municipal water infrastructure. Unfortunately neither house budget includes any increased funding for farmland protection beyond that proposed by Governor Cuomo. With the April 1 deadline approaching, the Assembly, Senate and the Governor have begun negotiations. We urge the state to increase funding for farmland conservation to $25 million to help farmers and communities protect New York’s irreplaceable farmland.

Puget Sound and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program

Puget SoundAmerican Farmland Trust is working with The Nature Conservancy and a broad coalition of agricultural and conservation organizations to get Puget Sound considered as one of eight areas in the United States to receive a new pool of conservation incentive funding. The funding pool was created through the establishment of the Regional Conservation Partnerships Program in the 2014 Farm Bill. American Farmland Trust and The Nature Conservancy are currently working with Congresswoman DelBene's office to craft a letter from the Washington congressional delegation to Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack in support of the designation of Puget Sound. As much as $10 million per year may be available for incentives under the program.

"Congresswoman DelBene has been a huge supporter of Washington farmers and ranchers in negotiations on the Farm Bill," said Pacific Northwest Director Dennis Canty, "We hope she can help get Puget Sound recognized under this new authority."

Who's Who in the Local Food Community

farmers-market-bounty1.jpgA new American Farmland Trust report, Who's Who in the Local Food Community, will go to press today and be distributed in early April. The report includes a directory of more than 50 organizations in western Washington state that are actively working on a more dependable and sustainable local food system. "There are a bewildering array of groups focused on local food in this area," according to Emily Noyd, American Farmland Trust intern and principal author. "We're hoping the Who's Who report makes some sense of how the community is organized." The publication continues American Farmland Trust's work on local food that began with the Western Washington Foodshed Study, conducted in 2012-2013 in partnership with the University of Washington. 

Improving Planning and Zoning in Kitsap County

Farmland ForeverAmerican Farmland Trust is helping Kitsap County improve its planning and zoning code related to farming. "Like many counties around Puget Sound, Kitsap is trying to support the farm industry by making it easier to build processing facilities, increase agritourism and simplify permitting requirements for farmers," said Pacific Northwest staffer Robin Fay. American Farmland Trust's assistance is part of an effort to improve farm planning and zoning in all 12 counties around Puget Sound, a vital element of American Farmland Trust's Farmland Forever Campaign.


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