2021 New England Policy Wrap Up: Big Wins for Farmland Protection and Access
The 2021 legislative session was unprecedented for state legislatures across the country and in New England. The virtual nature of these legislative sessions brought many opportunities and challenges in how American Farmland Trust and our partners conducted our advocacy work throughout the region.
From continuing to promote New England farmland protection and farmland access policies to configuring state solutions that would strengthen local agricultural supply chains considering the COVID-19 pandemic, state legislatures worked hard to pass laws that promote a sustainable regional food system.
Additionally, the region saw a huge increase in real estate values. According to the 2021 National Agricultural Statistic Service Land Value Survey, the average farmland values continue to rise across the country, with New England featuring some of the highest cost per acre land in Connecticut ($12,500), Massachusetts ($13,700), and Rhode Island ($16,400). The high cost of land creates barriers to entry for new and emerging farmers, specifically Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. It also leads to a high threat of development, as aging farmers are left without transition support. States across the region are pushing for policies that protect our working lands, while also establishing systems that make it easier for farmers to purchase land of their own.
From Augusta to Hartford, American Farmland Trust is committed to conducting and sharing the latest research, bringing together people and organizations, participating in coalitions, and in Connecticut, leading the Working Lands Alliance so that we can advance policies in the New England state legislature’s that will create a better agricultural future for all New Englanders.
Below you can find the summaries of farmland protection and access policies that were introduced in 2021.
One of the state’s primary farmland protection sources, the Community Investment Act, or CIA, remains intact. The CIA is a $40 real estate tax that is collected on every real estate transaction in the state. The income from this fee is then distributed through a formula to the state agencies that administer programs for open space preservation; farmland preservation; affordable housing; dairy sustainability and historic preservation. At the beginning of the session, the CT CIA Coalition worked collaboratively to send a letter to Governor Lamont and his staff highlighting CIA’s importance for communities across the state. The CIA Coalition is thrilled that Governor Lamont and the CT State Legislature kept the CIA budget intact.
Current bonding balances for the State’s Farmland Preservation Program and the Community Farms Preservation program will continue to provide ample funding for the Farmland Preservation Program through FY 2022 and FY 2023.
Farmland Protection Legislation
CT’s Community Farms Preservation Program will continue to protect the state’s small farms from development. H.B. 6577: An Act Concerning the State Properties Review Board threatened to add the State Properties Review Board as an additional step to the already thorough Community Farms Preservation Program application process, making it more difficult for farmers to access land tenure. Currently, the Community Farms Preservation Program is one of the few mechanisms the state has to create affordable land access opportunities for new and beginning farmers who often seek small plots of land to farm. As the cost of land continues to rise in Connecticut, having systems in place that protect prime farmland and provide resources to emerging farmers is crucial.
To read more about Connecticut’s policy efforts this session, check out Working Lands Alliances’ 2021 Legislative Wrap Up.
Special thanks to Ellen Griswold at Maine Farmland Trust for contributing to this section.
This year was a historic year for farmland protection in Maine. The Maine State Legislature passed LD 568 – An Act to Establish a Working Farmland Access and Protection Program within the ME Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry (DACF).
The establishment of a Working Farmland Access and Protection Fund will designate specific funding for farmland protection projects. It also allowed the state to leverage additional federal resources through the USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Agricultural Conservation Easement Program – Agricultural Land Easements (ACEP-ALE). A significant component of LD 568 is establishing a Working Farmland Access and Protection Program within the Maine Department of Agriculture that will allow for a specific portion of funding to be allocated towards farmland protection projects. In addition, the establishment of this program will include more farmland protection-specific expertise in the review process for applicants that apply to the State’s land conservation program – Land for Maine’s Future Program.
The Land for Maine Future Program (LMF) is Maine’s primary source for state farmland protection funding. It was established in 1987 and has continued to provide bonds and general funding appropriations. The priorities have evolved since 1987, but the prime focus has remained to protect and preserve Maine’s working lands. In the 2021 session, LMF secured $40 million in funding as part of the FY 2022 budget. This is a huge win for farmland protection funding in Maine. This is the first time LMF has been funded as part of Maine’s State Budget. The amount of funds that will be allocated towards ME’s Farmland Protection Program is still to be determined.
To learn more about the legislation that impacted Maine farmland, check out this policy brief from Maine Farmland Trust.
Special thanks to Winton Pitcoff of The Massachusetts Food System Collaborative for contributing to this section.
At the beginning of the legislative session, State Senator Gobi and State Representative Blais introduced S.482 and H.858: An Action regarding Farmland Protection and Viability Action Plan. Farmland advocates in the state were pleased to see that the Farmland Action Plan was funded at $200,000 in Governor Baker’s Capital Budget. This means that the bills above will likely get pulled from the legislative session because funding for the plan was appropriated in the Governor’s Capital Budget.
This is a first step for the State of Massachusetts to increase the amount of farmland that is protected through the State’s Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program and improve farmland access and affordability opportunities for new, beginning, urban, and socially disadvantaged farmers, as well as ensure that farmers looking to exit farming can pass their farmlands down to the next generation.
The high price of land in the Commonwealth has made it tough for new and beginning farmers, especially those in urban areas, to find farmland that is affordable and qualifies for MA’s Chapter 61A. Under MA’s current use taxation code, Chapter 61A, a landowner must farm over five acres of land to qualify for a lower tax rate based on the land being in agricultural production. H2810 An Act relative to non-contiguous farmland and H3059: An Act Relative To Expanding Agricultural Land aims to change this prediction by expanding Chapter 61A to be used on parcels of land under 5 acres and contiguous parcels that equal 5 acres and are owned by the same owner.
To learn more about the legislation that impacted Massachusetts farmland, check out this policy brief from The Massachusetts Food System Collaborative.
In New Hampshire
We are building valuable relationships with partners in New Hampshire to engage more deeply in policy work in the state. We look forward to engaging more as our capacity to do so grows.
To learn more about farmland protection in NH, visit The New Hampshire Land and Community Heritage Investment Program or Land for Good.
In Rhode Island
Special thanks to Diane Lynch from the Rhode Island Food Policy Council for contributing to this section. Farmland Protection Funding
Governor McKee recommended $3 million be allocated towards the protection of working forest and farmlands throughout Rhode Island in FY 2023-FY 2024. The funding would come out of a new General Obligation bond that was authorized by RI voters in March 2021. Approved funding would finance the purchase of forest conservation easements, the purchase of development rights by the Agricultural Preservation Commission, and the State Farmland Access Program. Governor McKee’s Capital Budget can be found here.
Farmland Protection and Access Legislation
The Rhode Island Senate introduced S.39: Senate Resolution Protecting and Ensuring Farmland Protection. If passed, this resolution would have requested that the Department of Environmental Management ensure that land used for agricultural operations be further protected and when the land is also used for fish and wildlife, these purposes are not detrimental to agricultural operations.
The RI Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee recommended that this bill be held this session and further studies are done before they take a vote on it.
State Commission to Study the Entire Area of Land Use, and Preservation
The Rhode Island House introduced HR5950 Res. #139 of 2021: House Resolution Creating A Special Legislative Commission to Study the Entire Area of Land Use, Preservation, Development, Housing, Environment, and Regulation. This legislation creates an 18 member commission charged with drafting a statewide study that would analyze RI’s land use planning for all purposes, including environmental protection and food security. This bill passed the RI State House this session and will take effect this year.
Special thanks to Jen Hollar from Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and Gordon Merrick from Conservation Law Foundation.
This year Vermont saw a huge win in funding for farmland protection. Governor Phil Scott signed the Appropriations Bill (H.32) on June 8th, 2021. This bill authorizes the Vermont State Budget for the 2022 Fiscal Year. The budget included authorization of $10 million for the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. VHCB (Vermont Housing and Conservation Board) is a quasi-public entity that administers the state’s conservation efforts including farmland protection.
Farmland Protection and Access
To begin to address this disparity in farmland access opportunities and ownership, the Vermont State Legislature introduced two key pieces of legislation during the 2021 Legislative Session, with the goal of increasing land access opportunities for Vermont’s Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. With the help of State Representative Brian Cina from Burlington, The Vermont BIPOC Land Access and Opportunity Act (H. 273), formally known as “An act relating to promoting racial and social equity in land access and property ownership”, was first introduced in the Vermont House Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs.
The second bill introduced with the help of VT State Representative Katherine Simms was H.232, An act relating to Promoting Land, Home Ownership, and Economic Opportunity. While neither of these pieces of legislation passed this session, the advocacy efforts set forth to pass them exemplified the needs and challenges BIPOC in the state face when attempting to purchase homes and farmland. Learn more about AFT’s New England farmland protection projects here.
To learn more about state-specific policy efforts, visit:
Massachusetts Food System Collaborative
Working Lands Alliance (a project of American Farmland Trust)
Rhode Island Food Policy Council
Vermont Housing and Conservation Board