As part of the Town of Hadley’s 350th anniversary, a recent event showcased new signs that are being placed on protected farmland by the town and the Kestrel Land Trust. This year alone, the Connecticut River Valley community has protected seven farms, making its 2,400 acres of land enrolled in the Commonwealth’s Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Program, the most of any community in the state. Praising the Patrick Administration for making this protection possible through its investment of $9.5 million in the APR program in 2009, our New England Field Representative Ben Bowell also noted the importance of the program in providing access to affordable farmland for young farmers.
Thirty-six conservation groups, farm organizations, local governments and others across the Northeast have joined together requesting that Congress and the Obama administration take quick action to address the crisis facing dairy farmers. Dairy farmers in the Northeast and around the country are facing severe and prolonged low milk prices—prices that are well below the farmers’ costs of production. This sustained price slump has caused the loss of some dairy farms already and threatens the future of thousands more in the Northeast.
Farmers with land protected through the Massachusetts Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) program are now eligible for grants of up to $100,000 to implement farm business or modernization plans. The new program, authorized by the 2008 Dairy Farm Preservation Act at the urging of American Farmland Trust and Massachusetts Farm Bureau, was recently announced by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. Requests for Responses will be accepted until July 28, 2009.
AFT continues to work with a diverse group of organizations representing food, farm, and nutrition interests to enact a statewide Food Policy Council for the Commonwealth [PDF] . The groups envisions a council composed of state agency and stakeholder representatives that works to enhance the economic viability of agriculture; promote food security; expand production and consumption of fresh, healthy, safe and locally produced foods; and improve the nutritional health of the Commonwealth’s citizens.
2008 was a banner year for agriculture and farmland protection in the Massachusetts Legislature! Key legislative priorities identified by American Farmland Trust and other farm and conservation organizations were enacted, including increased funding for farmland protection, an economic safety net for the state’s dairy farmers, and new initiatives to spur on-farm energy conservation and reinvestment in farm infrastructure. Another priority—a state conservation tax credit that will expand opportunities for land protection—is likely to become law this fall.
Many thanks to everyone who contacted their legislators, visited the State House on “Rally Day” or joined the Coalition for the Environmental Bond. Please take a moment to thank Governor Patrick and our champions in the Legislature for their leadership on these issues this year." - Cris Coffin, New England Director
A new five-year Environmental Bond is a win for farmers, consumers and the environment, boosting funding for programs that improve farm profitability, promote local foods, protect productive farmland and encourage conservation.
The Bond increases the Commonwealth’s borrowing authority for the following programs operated by the Department of Agricultural Resources:
Many thanks to everyone who contacted their legislators, visited the State House on “Rally Day” or joined the Coalition for the Environmental Bond. Your voice was heard!
Taking many of the recommendations of the Governor’s Dairy Task Force, the legislature enacted a dairy bill that provides a needed economic safety net for dairy farmers while encouraging reinvestment in all sectors of agriculture. Patterned after a South Carolina program, the measure establishes a refundable income tax credit for dairy farmers triggered when milk prices drop below a state-set price floor. The measure also creates a “linked” loan program, offering, through a buy down of commercial loan interest rates, four-year low-interest loans of up to $500,000 to farms of all types for several purposes, including improved profitability or marketing, infrastructure or environmental needs.
Towns that have been searching for ways to support their local farms have a new tool established by the Legislature—the option to waive the collection of personal property taxes on farm animals and equipment. Towns will need to adopt the waiver by a two-thirds vote.
Until now, farms enrolled in the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Program have been ineligible for state grants designed to help implement farm business plans. The Dairy Farm Preservation Act adopts an AFT recommendation to allow APR farms to apply for Farm Viability grants, offering farmers who have permanently committed their land to agriculture a way to help finance needed investments in their farm business.
The Legislature is expected to give final approval soon to an exciting new tool for land protection—a state income tax credit for landowners who make permanent gifts of qualifying land or interests in land to the state, a town or a land conservation organization. The tax credit is limited to $50,000, and, in a compromise worked out between the Legislature and Governor, no more than $2 million in credits will be available each year. To increase its attractiveness to farmers, AFT has recommended that the credit be transferable, and a study commission will be established to explore that option.
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