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American Farmland Trust to Partner on Largest Soil Health Project in New England History 

The project, led by NRCS and American Farmland Trust, will provide resources to livestock farmers to implement regenerative agriculture practices and combat climate change. 

Northampton, MA – Today the Regional Conservation Partnership Program – a program of the Natural Resource Conservation Service – announced a soil health project incentivizing the adoption of regenerative agriculture practices in western New England. The project will be led by NRCS and American Farmland Trustalong with additional partners including the University of Connecticut Department of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Vermont Extension,  Xerces SocietyNew England DairyMassachusetts Association of Conservation Districts , and the Consider Pastures brand from Pete and Gerry’s Organics. It will be the largest soil health program in New England history, providing over $15 million in resources and support to livestock farmers in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut. These funds reflect a $7.4 million award from NRCS as well as matching partner and donor contributions of more than $7.6 million. 

According to AFT’s Farms Under Threat: A New England Perspective, dairy and livestock farmers make up 67 percent of New England farmland, yet adoption of healthy soil practices has proven difficult, both technically and financially.  

Regenerative agriculture, a system of practices that actively restores the natural resources of the land, can also build resiliency in agricultural systems and help address broader environmental problems. Adoption of these practices have a quantifiable impact on carbon sequestration and nitrous oxide reduction helping to combat climate change. Transforming the agriculture system requires a holistic approach that favors biodiversity, keeps plants in the ground throughout the year and protects the soil.  

“Farmers and farm workers work hard each and every day to put nutritious and flavorful food on our tables and to care for our water, our air and our soil” said Nathan L’Etoile, New England Director of American Farmland Trust. “With the support of NRCS and many others we are launching the largest regenerative agriculture program in New England with the sole purpose of helping those farmers steward their land.” 

Over the next 5 years, AFT’s Western New England Regenerative Agriculture project will work closely with hundreds of farms, covering tens of thousands of acres of cropland, on soil conservation, including no-till farming, cover-crop usage, the creation of filter strips, converting marginal cropland to pasture and other regenerative agriculture practices, while also seeking to increase wildlife habitat, improve overall soil health, and protect local water quality. 

The project brings together many partners, all of whom provide expertise and support on the many components of soil health adoption. 

Through RCPP, conservation partners work in collaboration with NRCS to help farmers, ranchers and forest landowners throughout the nation to implement systems that conserve water and soil resources, improve the health of wildlife habitats and increase climate resilience.   

“The Regional Conservation Partnership Program is public-private partnership working at its best,” said Terry Cosby, Acting Chief for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. “These new projects will harness the power of partnership to help bring about solutions to natural resource concerns across the country while supporting our efforts to combat the climate crisis.” NRCS Chief Terry Cosby  

MA – “I’m pleased to announce that the Regenerative Agriculture for Western New England project proposed by American Farmland Trust has been selected for funding through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program,” said Dan Wright, Massachusetts NRCS State Conservationist. “Through collaboration with AFT and aligning our resources toward a common goal, we’ll make an impact for natural resource conservation on hundreds of farms and thousands of acres of farmland that could never have been realized on our own.”  

CT – “RCPP is a remarkable program – co-investing with partners to address the nation’s natural resource concerns,” said Connecticut NRCS State Conservationist Thomas L. Morgart. “The program funds levied for this particular project will help tackle soil health, water quality, and pollinator habitat issues on thousands of acres in western New England. Helping the American Farmland Trust move forward with their vision while supporting the agricultural community in improving the environment will be a victory for all.” 

NH – “We are excited at the conservation opportunities that this RCPP initiative presents to the farm and forest landowners both here in the Granite State and the other states across the region involved in this partnership,” said Becky Ross, New Hampshire NRCS State Conservationist. “With the help of the American Farmland Trust we will be better able to maximize the impact of conservation dollars while providing technical and financial assistance to improve soil health, water quality, and pollinator habitat in New Hampshire.” 

VT – “Vermont NRCS is excited about this partnership project that will assist us in helping land users improve soil and water quality and pollinator habitat on private lands, and also promote long-term regenerative conservation practice adoption,” said Vicky Drew, Vermont NRCS State Conservationist.    

New England Dairy will help tell the story of dairy farming in the western New England region and the choices they are making to clean our air, clean our water, and build healthier soils.  

“We are delighted to be a partner in American Farmland Trust’s RCPP project.  This work is incredibly timely for our New England dairy farmers and is directly aligned with the dairy community’s goal to become carbon neutral or better by 2050.  This project will contribute to the development of future practices that are economically viable for farmers, while helping the dairy community achieve their net-zero carbon emission goals.” Jenny Karl, CEO of New England Dairy 

Pete and Gerry’s Organics will focus their efforts on advancing skills around pastured egg production, through their Consider Pastures project.  

“We are thrilled to be able to work together with NRCS and American Farmland Trust to pioneer regenerative egg farming in New England.”  Jesse Laflamme, Founder/CEO Consider Pastures 

Xerces Society is the leading organization for protection of terrestrial invertebrates. They will provide guidance to livestock and dairy farmers on implementing pollinator friendly practices.  

“The Xerces Society is very excited to be partnering with AFT on work that gets to the heart of our mission to incorporate pollinator and beneficial insect conservation into regenerative farming systems. This partnership will go a long way towards supporting the sustainability and productivity of farming in western New England, as well as valuable on-farm biodiversity.”  Mace Vaughan , Pollinator Program Co-Director 

The University of Connecticut will provide support through the creation of water quality models that will guide ground conservation practices.   

“I’m excited to be a part of a project integrating field measurements and hydrologic modeling with on the ground conservation practices and working to protect New England’s water quality and support our region’s farmers.” James Knighton, Assistant Professor in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Connecticut  

The University of Vermont Extension brings specialized info and guidance on pasture grazing and regenerative practices on pastures. 

Massachusetts Association of Conservation District will be providing conservation planning guidance and assistance for livestock and dairy farmers in Western Massachusetts. 

“The Massachusetts Association of Conservation Districts is eager to collaborate with American Farmlands on this exciting RCPP initiative. MACD is already engaged in widespread outreach to support agricultural producers, build community support, and improve soil health, and this new initiative will enable us to help advance that important cause across the Commonwealth.” Michael Leff, Executive Director, MACD 

The funds from this project will continue American Farmland Trust’s work to save the land that sustains us by protecting farmland, promoting environmentally sound farming practices, and keeping farmers on the land. Special thanks to the many donors who made this project possible.  

 

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American Farmland Trust is the only national conservation organization dedicated to protecting farmland, promoting environmentally sound farming practices and keeping farmers on the land. Since 1980, AFT’s innovative work has helped to permanently protect more than 6.8 million acres of farmland and ranchland and led the way for the adoption of conservation practices on millions more. No Farms, No Food. Learn more at www.farmland.org 

 

About the Author
Emeran Irby

New England Communication & Outreach Coordinator

eirby@farmland.org

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