May E-News: Losing Funding for Protecting Maryland Farmland and Asking the Senate to Keep Historic Conservation Compliance Agreement in Next Farm Bill


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Welcome to the May 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. 
 

American Farmland Trust Brokers Historic Conservation Compliance Agreement

young corn in a fieldA historic compromise, supported by 34 agriculture, conservation and crop insurance groups, has garnered strong bipartisan support in the 2013 Farm Bill approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee. American Farmland Trust was a leader in brokering the non-partisan conservation compliance agreement included in the bill to relink conservation compliance with crop insurance and oppose limits on crop insurance eligibility. “This policy agreement will result in a stronger safety net for farmers and for the environment while ensuring more conservation on the land for farms big and small,” explains American Farmland Trust Director of Federal Policy Jeremy Peters.

We are proud of this achievement, but we need your help! The Farm Bill is being considered on the Senate floor as you read this and amendments are lining up to strip out this important agreement. We cannot let that happen!  Please contact your senators today. Ask them to support the conservation compliance agreement in the Farm Bill.

OUR WORK AROUND THE COUNTRY

Greenprints Offer Long-term Solutions to Climate Change in California

Celery field in Salinas Valley, CaliforniaNobody has a greater stake in climate change than California's $40 billion-a-year agriculture industry. With recent news that the earth’s atmosphere has surpassed 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide, this could mean a further decrease in irrigation water supplies, an increase in pest infestations and temperatures that are too warm for some tree crops. Action should be taken now to plan for a more economically and environmentally sustainable future for California' farmers, ranchers and all of us who depend on them. One promising method of land-use and development planning in California is the creation of “greenprints.” These plans document how natural resources like farmland support a region’s economy, health and quality of life, and identify long-term strategies to guide conservation and stewardship of land, water and living resources. Several locations in California—including the San Francisco Bay Area, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz—have already done greenprints, and American Farmland Trust is currently working to develop a region-wide greenprint for the San Joaquin Valley. 

Concern Persists Among Maryland Farmers and Advocates Over Loss of Farmland Protection Funding

Maryland dairy farm at sunsetDismay at the lack of funding support for farmland protection in the final Maryland state budget continues to spread among farmland and conservation advocates. The combined loss from the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Fund and the Rural Legacy Program totaled $8.7 million. “We’ve gained ground but there’s more ground to be preserved for working agriculture,” expressed Baltimore County farmer Dan Colhoun in a recent article in The Delmarva Farmer. “Developer interest is not going to go away and the battle will be ongoing for what farmland remains.” As American Farmland Trust Mid-Atlantic Director Jim Baird noted in the article, the lack of farmland protection funding could have a negative impact on efforts to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. Baird is currently exploring the relationship between protected farmland and water quality in Maryland so stay tuned for more information on this topic. 

Repeal of the Indiana Inheritance Tax Good News for Family Farms

Multiple-generations-of-a-farm-family.jpgOn May 8, 2013, Indiana Governor Pence signed legislation repealing the Indiana inheritance tax for the estates of all individuals who pass away in 2013 or in later years. This brings Indiana into line with the majority of states that do not have a state-level death tax. This is good news for keeping land in farms. Estate taxes can lead to the break-up, sale and development of family-owned farmland. Though the Indiana inheritance tax continues to apply to the estates of individuals who died in 2012 or before, the federal estate tax law was also favorably changed in 2013. It now currently allows a taxpayer to shelter up to $5,250,000 from the federal estate and gift tax this year. The combined federal and Indiana state exemptions is also good news for the growing population of widowed women landowners, allowing more flexibility for married couples on the first spouse's death to benefit multiple generations. Visit the Indiana state page for more general information about estate tax changes. 

What’s Cropping Up in Illinois?

Midwest field with young wheat plantsAmerican Farmland Trust is working closely with the Illinois Department of Agriculture and soil and water conservation districts throughout the state, empowering them to hold educational events on cover crop’s role in soil health. “Farmers often ask, ‘How do I get started on cover crops?’” said American Farmland Trust Midwest Director Mike Baise. “We do everything we can to connect farmers with the information and resources they need.” As part of this effort, American Farmland Trust is partnering with conservation districts and the Illinois Stewardship Alliance to sponsor field days where Illinois farmers can share information and ideas around cover crops. The field days are being planned for late summer to early fall in Champaign, McLean, Montgomery and Morgan Counties. Visit the American Farmland Trust website for more information about these events and others being planned this year. 

New England Convening Explores Challenges and Opportunities Around Farmland Loss, Access and Restoration

Crop field on small New England farmWhere is New England’s best farmland and what are the threats to it? How can state governments help reduce farmland loss? How can farmland be made more available and affordable to both established and beginning farmers? These and other questions were the subject of a recent regional convening hosted by American Farmland Trust and Land For Good in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The meeting brought together more than 80 federal and state agency staff, Extension personnel, foundation officers, and representatives of conservation and farm organizations. “We are very grateful to all six state Chief Agricultural Officers and six (USDA-NRCS) State Conservationists for their collaboration with us on this convening,” said Cris Coffin, American Farmland Trust’s New England Director. “It was a chance not just for information sharing, but to think strategically about ways we can work as a region to reduce farmland conversion, increase permanent protection, expand access and keep farmland in farming, especially in light of a changing climate.”  Visit www.farmland.org/newengland for more information about the convening, including presentations and maps.    

States, Land Trusts in New England Frustrated with Implementation of Federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program

Protected in farm in Pleasant Valley, VermontThe federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) has been a critical source of matching funds for state and local farmland protection efforts in New England, investing more than $200 million in permanent agricultural conservation easements since 2002. Yet recent FRPP policy and certification process changes at USDA have confused and frustrated state farmland protection programs and their land trust partners. “New England has some of the oldest and most respected state Purchase of Agriculture Conservation Easement programs in the country—yet not a single program was certified,” said Cris Coffin, American Farmland Trust’s New England Director. Some of the region’s strongest FRPP advocates, including U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT), and Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, are now seeking answers and solutions. “We are extremely fortunate to have such strong allies in Congress and as Governors,” noted Coffin. Read more about efforts in the region

Working Lands Alliance Hosts Successful Pizzapalooza Fundraiser

Working Lands Alliance Big Green TruckOn May 16th, the Working Lands Alliance hosted a “Pizzapalooza,” a fundraiser to support WLA’s efforts to protect Connecticut’s productive farmland. Nearly 200 people turned out for the successful event, held at Common Ground High School in New Haven. Those in attendance enjoyed pizza from Big Green Truck Pizza, local cheese from Arethusa Farm, local beer from Thomas Hooker Brewery and Berkshire Brewing, and bluegrass music by the New Haven-based Five in the Chamber. The crowd included some longtime WLA supporters as well as many new friends who came to learn about WLA’s work and legislative accomplishments. WLA thanks its outstanding sponsors for this event: Green Village Initiative, Zinc Restaurant and Kitchen Zinc, The Wine Thief, Chabaso Bakery, and Sono Baking Company & Café. 

Legislative Update

New Bill Introduced in New York to Help Beginning Farmers Find Land

Young farmer The GreenhornsDiscovering new ways to help farmers, particularly beginning farmers, find a farm at an affordable price was a priority issue at American Farmland Trust’s No Farms No Food® Rally. Assemblyman Bill Magee, Chair of the New York State Assembly Agriculture Committee and Senator Patty Ritchie, Chair of the New York State Senate Agriculture Committee, have introduced bills to address this problem. Their legislation, bills S. 5377 and  A. 7002, would require the state Department of Agriculture and Markets and Office of General Services to identify and inventory state-owned farmland that could be purchased by or leased to farmers and take steps to make that land available to farmers.

Tell New York State to Buy Local

Encouraging state agencies to buy more food produced in New York was another priority issue at American Farmland Trust’s No Farms No Food® Rally that is gaining traction. The Food Metrics Act S. 4061 /A. 5102 will require state agencies to track the state’s current food purchasing practices and encourage state institutions to buy more food produced in New York.  Thousands of New Yorkers have contacted their legislators in support of the legislation – add your voice to this growing chorus! Contact your New York state legislators and ask them to support the Food Metrics Bill!

Harvesting Opportunities in New York, November 20, Albany

2013 Harvesting Opportunities post cardThe second annual Harvesting Opportunities in New York: Growing Local Food Economies and Protecting Farmland conference will be held on November 20 in Albany. The business of growing and selling food is a major contributor to New York’s economy. Farms annually sell billions of dollars in products yet New York continues to lose thousands of acres of farmland to development each year. “This conference will build on last year’s event, continuing to motivate more New Yorkers to work together to grow our local food economies and save the irreplaceable farmland on which New York depends,” said American Farmland Trust New York State Director David Haight.

American Farmland Trust Awarded Grants in New York to Help Beginning Farmers & Save Farmland

Three farm children in front of a barnLast month, American Farmland Trust was awarded two Conservation Partnership Program Grants. The Conservation Partnership Program is a public-private partnership between the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation  and the Land Trust Alliance that invests in New York land trusts. “This program is unique in the nation,” said Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens. “The state’s investment…multiplies several times in benefits to local communities, improving both the local economy and the environment.” The grants awarded to American Farmland Trust will assist in the development of the Hudson Valley Farm Link Network and our No Farms No Food® campaign to engage New Yorkers in protecting farmland. The Conservation Partnership Program is funded through the state’s Environmental Protection Fund

Act Now to Save Farmland Protection Funding in Washington State

Washington State orchard and red barn in spring bloomThe Washington State Legislature is getting close to approving a budget for the 2013-15 period and funding for farmland protection could be zeroed out. Since 2005, the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP) has been the principal state source for farmland easements. If the legislature passes a budget with less than $40 million for WWRP—a proposal currently supported by the state Senate—no funding would be available for farmland protection. Please contact your state Senator and Representatives today. Urge them to support at least $70 million for WWRP to secure $5.8 million for farmland protection in this year’s budget.

Planning for Agriculture Conference Sparks Collaboration in Puget Sound

washington-farm-along-a-marsh.pngFollowing up on the Planning for Agriculture in the Puget Sound conference, American Farmland Trust has started a planners work group to help people working on updating county policies and plans for farming. Under Washington's Growth Management Act, counties are required to update their comprehensive plans every five years, and the next update will happen in 2014-15. "This is a great opportunity to upgrade agricultural zoning and revise polices that have a big impact on farming," said Dennis Canty, Pacific Northwest Director for American Farmland Trust. "Several counties already do a great job with planning for agriculture. We'd like to bring all twelve up to their standard." A series of workshops and publications is sheduled for this summer and fall. To find out more information or to participate in the work group, contact Dennis at dcanty@farmland.org.

A Small Victory for Farmland Zoning in Pierce County, Washington

lavender fields in Washington stateAmerican Farmland Trust recently joined with a group of local farmers and farm advocates to protect farmland zoning in Pierce County, Washington. Citing a conflict between criteria and mapping, county planners had proposed dropping more than 11,000 acres of farmland from agricultural zoning, roughly half of the zoned farmland in the county. After sending a letter to and meeting with County Executive Pat McCarthy, she agreed to delay further action until the upcoming comprehensive plan update—a  small victory but an important one. The next step for American Farmland Trust is to work with the county staff on changes that resolve the criteria/mapping problem but in a way that protects the county's endangered farm industry.


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