Every year, America loses 1.2 million acres of farmland, much of it our best and most productive farmland near where most Americans live. Nearly 20,000 acres of farmland per year are converted to development in Maryland. Statewide, Maryland is losing farmland at the 3rd highest rate in the country.
In 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.
Jim Baird, Mid-Atlantic director for American
Farmland Trust, was confirmed by the Maryland Senate Executive Nominations
Committee as a member of the advisory committee for the Rural Legacy program.
Enacted by the
General Assembly in 1997, Maryland’s Rural Legacy
created to discourage sprawl development and protect areas for future
generations to enjoy. “The program provides farmers and landowners an
alternative to developing (or subdividing) their land or selling their
to developers,” said Baird. “It was created specifically
to protect large, contiguous tracts of land rich in natural resources,
farms and forests. It is a great combination of agriculture and
environmental protection.” The 11-member Rural Legacy
Advisory Committee and the Rural Legacy
Board, which is comprised of Maryland’s
Agriculture, Natural Resources and Planning secretaries, review grant
applications annually, ultimately leading to recommendations
to the governor and Board of Public Works on which Rural Legacy Areas to fund.
Since its enactment, the program has protected 75,434 acres of irreplaceable
of farm, conservation and public health leaders from Maryland's
Frederick and Montgomery counties gathered September 16 to discuss
recommendations for maintaining the
health and economic vitality of the counties’ agriculture industry.
Centered on a report entitled Farming At Metro’s Edge: Securing the Future of Agriculture and Farm
Communities in Frederick and Montgomery Counties, the gathering was designed to formulate ideas
and actions to keep agriculture productive and profitable for the next
generation. “AFT has
been pleased to participate in this 100 percent grassroots effort by citizens
and organizations to bring the community together to talk about the future of
farming so close to the nation’s capital,” explained Jim Baird, Mid-Atlantic
director for American Farmland Trust. The report drew from proceedings from the Farming at Metro’s Edge conference.
The past three years of work
on Maryland’s Eastern Shore has provided important information to farmers and
agricultural advisors about the relationship between on-farm conservation and
water quality. Starting in 2012, seven Maryland farmers worked with American Farmland
Trust; Agflex, Inc.; and local crop advisor Don Moore to test new fertilizer
practices on a portion of their crop land by participating in the BMP
Challenge. The risk proved rewarding, with an average increased profit of $6
per acre while reducing nitrogen applied by 7 pounds per acre on the test
acres. “Throughout the entire BMP Challenge process, farmers demonstrated their
willingness and eagerness to learn,” explained Moore. “They want to adopt new technologies if
they make good economic sense.” Read more details about these Eastern Shore
All farmers and ranchers know preparing for the year ahead starts with looking back at the bright spots and challenges from the seasons before. At AFT, we’re proud that in 2012 we rallied farmers and citizens alike to advocate on behalf of protecting farm and ranch land. Our innovative projects helped family farmers pioneer sound farming practices, which help to preserve our land and water resources. We also laid the groundwork to keep farmers on the land by providing tools and resources that allow them to thrive.
We’re sharing accomplishments and inspiration from 2012 in the words of our expert staff.
While all the reasons we have identified through the years for why farmland is important are all still true, we also have this heightened concern about water quality. We need to understand what role farmland and farmers play in this realm and we articulate that to people. They need to understand how much agriculture is part of the solution for this issue, too. And so this last year I’ve been working on making the case that farmland is essential for water quality so we can make it part of the policy solution.
Read more from Mid-Atlantic Director Jim Baird
How is farmland stacking up to development in efforts to
clean the Chesapeake Bay? Mid-Atlantic Director Jim Baird has been working with
partners in the region to help answer this question and recently presented their findings at the Chesapeake
Bay Watershed Forum. With widespread perceptions of farms as the primary
water quality problem in the Bay area, many think that smart-design housing might
actually be a preferable land use. “Not necessarily,” says Baird. “We have found that,
thanks to growth in conservation practices spurred by the Bay Restoration Plan,
farmland actually puts about 15 percent less nitrogen into the Bay watershed
per acre than developed land.” Move ahead to a 2025 scenario. Should all of the
conservation measures on farms and developed lands be implemented, farmland is
projected to release 28 percent less nitrogen than developed land. Adds Baird,
“These findings are important both to restore Chesapeake Bay health and to maintain the
farms that provide our food and support our local economy.”
Debates on how to clean up the Chesapeake Bay—a national treasure constituting the largest estuary in the
all over the news these days. Central to the discussion on the future of the
Bay is how to offset pollution from new growth and development in the
watershed. American Farmland Trust has been seeking solutions that benefit both the environment and farmers by pursuing the creation of trading markets for
clean water “credits.” In Maryland, this trading will come from the Department
of the Environment’s plan, a draft of which, Accounting
For Growth, is up for public input in five meetings across the state over
the next several months. “Cleaning up
the Bay is more than a slogan. It is a serious challenge that will affect
everyone no matter if you are a homeowner, farmer, developer or business owner,”
says Jim Baird, American Farmland Trust's Mid-Atlantic Director. “These meetings are about how to keep the Bay on the road to
recovery even while new growth brings increased pollution.”
What is nutrient trading and why is it important for a healthy future? To help answer these questions, we teamed up with the Maryland Department of Agriculture and talked with farmers and experts about nutrient trading in the state and its possible impact on the Chesapeake Bay. The video will be used as a new tool to assist the state's roll-out of a program that has the potential to bring new revenue sources to farmers and lower the cost of pollution reduction for all citizens of Maryland.
In May 2009, President Barack Obama issued an executive order for a fresh look at the federal government’s role in Chesapeake Bay cleanup. The EPA and four cabinet-level departments recently released draft reports that estimate meeting water quality goals will require a 44 percent reduction of nitrogen entering the bay. Agriculture is one of the contributors to pollution in the bay, and reducing run-off while ensuring farms stay in business is no easy task. Fortunately there are some tools that that help farmers improve water quality, while allowing them to keep the farm business alive.
AFT received a $650,000 grant to support the Mid Atlantic Clean Water Initiative which will implement the BMP challenge for Reduced Nitrogen in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
AFT launched the Mid Atlantic Clean Water Initiative to help farmers enhance their nutrient management and reduce high nutrient levels that impair local and regional water quality. The new project has started with a $650,000 Conservation Innovation Grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The grant was part of a $5 million fund specifically for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. By working with producers in the field and at the policy level, AFT hopes to reduce between 200,000 and 270,000 pounds of nitrogen and set the stage to expand the program in each state over three years.
More on the Mid-Atlantic Clean Water Initiative
Focus on Maryland
In Queen Anne County, Maryland, the president and two commissioners have made a proposal to save farmland and focus urban growth with a voluntary transfer of development rights (TDR) program [PDF]. According to Jim Baird, AFT’s Mid Atlantic States Director, “TDRs have proven to be invaluable in protecting important resource lands, while directing new development to areas with existing and adequate infrastructure.” But they are not without their detractors: developers who chafe at the added cost, suburban residents who resist more density in their neighborhood and some farmers who worry that their land will lose value when zoning changes are made. “It’s another tool in the tool kit,” says Baird. Ultimately citizens will decide what they want their community to look like and the best way to achieve that. AFT has provided comments or background information to both efforts.
Eating local and supporting local farms has never been easier thanks to the University of Maryland’s newly released virtual farmers market. This site allows consumers to find a local farm selling everything under the sun from Apples to Watermelons. This easy to navigate guide demonstrates how simple and rewarding it can be to source a delicious diet right in your backyard. Visit FoodTrader.org and start ordering-up local today.
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.