On April 7, we met with Massachusetts lawmakers, reminding them how important our farms and farmland are to our economy, environment, and food security. At the Agriculture Day in Boston, we were excited that Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Richard Sullivan highlighted Governor Patrick’s continued commitment to funding for farmland preservation, and that Governor Patrick used the day to announce appointments to the new Massachusetts Food Policy Council—which has been a high priority for us.
Twenty-six agriculutural organizations in the state signed on to the 2011 Agriculture Day Legislative Priorities [PDF], setting the tone for the work to be done in the coming year.
The formal 2009-2010 Legislative Session ended at midnight on July 31st with several successes—and some disappointments—for farms and farmland protection in the Commonwealth.
Victories for Massachusetts Agriculture
- Statewide Food Policy Council: Statewide Food Policy Council: Over the last two years American Farmland Trust has worked closely with a group of organizations—now the Massachusetts Food Policy Alliance—to advocate for the creation of this Council. House Bill 4568, which passed the Legislature and has been signed by Governor Patrick, establishes a 17-member council to advance four food system goals: including increased production and consumption of Massachusetts-grown foods and the protection of the land and water resources needed for local food production.
- Protections for Small Farms: Current law provides a broad exemption from local zoning requirements for agricultural uses on farms of 5 acres or more (see MGL Ch 40A, Sec 3), Section 79 of Senate Bill 2582 recognizes the food production capacity and agricultural importance of small plots of land by extending existing protections to include smaller farms of 2 acres or more as long as they produce at least $1,000 per acre annually.
- School Nutrition: House Bill 4459 encourages the purchase of local farm products by adding public colleges and universities to the state’s local procurement law and clarifying the cap for individual purchases which do not require normal bidding.
While not passing, two important bills made it further along in the legislative process than in previous years, hopefully laying the groundwork for their successful passage in 2011.
- Partial Release of Protected Farmland: Despite concerns voiced by American Farmland Trust and other statewide land conservation organizations [PDF] and against the recommendation of the state’s Agricultural Lands Preservation Committee, legislation allowing the partial release of farmland in Brimfield, MA from the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) program for a non-agricultural use was recently enacted into law. American Farmland Trust is disappointed that its concerns were not addressed by either the Legislature or the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, and will be looking at ways to strengthen state policy to avoid similar releases in the future.
A report finalized by the New England Governors’ Blue Ribbon Commission on Land Conservation offers recommendations to keep the region’s farmland in farming. Recommendations include a New England Farm and Food Security Initiative to identify and address barriers and opportunities to increase production and consumption of New England-grown farm and food products, and protect the region’s agricultural lands. Commission members briefed the New England governors on the recommendations, and we will be working with the Commission and the six state Departments of Agriculture to move these valuable recommendations forward.
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.
State Representative Peter Koutoujian introduced a bill aimed at increasing the purchase of locally grown foods by schools and colleges. If passed, H. 2107 will add state colleges to the list of state agencies that shall purchase Massachusetts grown agricultural products unless the price of the goods exceeds, by more than 10%, the price of products from out of state. The bill also addresses the purchases of all procurement officers: currently they can purchase locally grown products valued less than $25,000 without seeking outside bids; the proposed legislation changes the limit to $50,000. The bill is in the Joint Committee on Public Health and expected to be reported out soon.
Capping a year of significant legislative gains for agriculture and land protection, the Massachusetts Legislature and Governor Deval Patrick joined together in the waning days of the 2008 legislative session to enact legislation creating a state conservation tax credit [PDF]. The measure goes into effect in 2011 and provides a state income tax credit to taxpayers who donate land or a conservation easement to the state or a nonprofit conservation organization. The credit is valued at 50 percent of the appraised value of the land, limited to $50,000 per gift, and can be carried forward for 10 consecutive years. At American Farmland Trust’s urging, the measure also creates a study commission to develop recommendations regarding whether to make the credit transferable.
FederAl Farm Policy and The Farm bill
What’s in the farm bill and why is it important?
Find out what’s next for the farm bill and how we can make sure the legislation's promises are turned into programs on the ground.
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