AFT Commends Rhode Island for the Passage of the Fiscal Year 2025 Budget That Directly Supports the State’s Agricultural Land Preservation Program - American Farmland Trust

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AFT Commends Rhode Island for the Passage of the Fiscal Year 2025 Budget That Directly Supports the State’s Agricultural Land Preservation Program

(Providence, RI and Northampton, MA) American Farmland Trust, the Rhode Island Food Policy Council, the Rhode Island Land Trust Council, and a broader coalition of farmland protection advocates applaud the Rhode Island State Legislature for the passage of the FY25 budget and Governor Dan Mckee for signing it on June 17. This critical legislation will amplify funding dedicated to farmland protection, as well as various other land conservation efforts, in the state’s FY 2025 Budget. The budget includes $13 million in the Green Economy Bond, which is set to be on the November ballot. Of these funds, $5 million is for farmland conservation, $3 million is dedicated to state open space, and another $5 million is for forest stewardship on state lands. This land conservation win is a result of advocates’ collective voice and dedication to ensuring that RI’s natural resources are preserved.

Farmland plays a vital role in RI’s economy and New England’s food security. The state’s working lands directly support RI’s economy with over 1,100 farm businesses, close to 4,000 jobs, and $250 million in direct revenue. This critical investment in the state’s Agricultural Land Preservation (ALP) Program, overseen by the Department of Environmental Management, will protect local farms and provide the state with long-term food security, meaning that no matter what disruptions impact the global food system, local food can still be grown for Rhode Islanders. Conserved farmland benefits all of the state’s residents, including all RI farmers – both multi-generational farms and new farms. There is an abundance of small, family-owned businesses that support the majority of the state’s food system, and investing in the protection of these farms and businesses leads to greater agricultural viability and a stronger local economy.

Senator Louis P. DiPalma, D-District 12, said “The preservation of farmland and other open space is critical for Rhode Island’s present and future. It’s a smart investment because it benefits our economy, our environment, and our quality of life. The $5 million included for farmland preservation in this year’s Green Bond will open doors of opportunity, strengthen our food system, and help advance our climate goals. Supporting agriculture is a priority for many of my Senate colleagues, and as Chairman of the Committee on Finance, I am proud to have worked with our partners to secure this important funding.” 

Representative Megan Cotter, D-District 39, said “I am very grateful to my colleagues and leaders in the House and Senate for their support for farmland and open space preservation through the green bond. Farmland and other green spaces are critically important to our present and our future, creating cleaner air, protecting water quality, offering opportunities for local food production, and preserving the quality of life that Rhode Islanders appreciate. Where we choose to put our resources is a statement of our values, and voters in Rhode Island have historically been very supportive of bonds aimed at protecting and preserving our environmental resources. I am very glad that they will once again have the opportunity to stand up for green space in November.”

In addition to supporting RI’s economy, food security, and climate mitigation efforts, the Green Economy Bond funds will be used to support the state’s Farmland Access Program. RI continues to have the most expensive farmland in the country and faces significant development pressure. According to the 2023 National Agricultural Statistic Service Land Values Survey, the median cost of farmland per acre in the state is $18,300 per acre. Farmers in RI have unique challenges to land access because of the limited amount of farmland available compared to farmers in other regions of the country with lower land prices and conversion threats, but they have more options for keeping land in farming. As RI looks towards further building a robust, equitable, and resilient agricultural economy, farmland affordability and accessibility are cardinal to these efforts. RI’s new and beginning farmers are at the crux of ensuring that the state’s agricultural sector continues for future generations. According to recent reports published by both the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Young Farmer’s Coalition, access to affordable farmland remains one of the main barriers to new and young farmers, especially Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) farmers. Starting and maintaining a viable farm business begins with affordable access to farmland. RI’s Farmland Access Program is one of the many tools the state can use to address the high cost of farmland on the speculative market.

Investment in RI’s ALP Program and the Land Access Program is critical to the future of the state’s food system. The $5 million in funds dedicated to farmland preservation supports these initiatives. These funds help to ensure that the Ocean State’s agricultural productivity remains safe from development pressure, that farmers can continue to farm, and that young and beginning farmers can more easily access land tenure. Through the investment in agriculture and land conservation, RI is actively addressing climate mitigation, food system resilience, and sustainable economic and workforce development.

Diane Lynch, President of the Rhode Island Food Policy Council and Vice Chair of the Rhode Island Agricultural Land Preservation Commission, said “Rhode Islanders now rank the preservation of our farmland as one of their top environmental priorities. The important role that farms play in our environmental sustainability, our ability to mitigate climate change, our food security, and our access to open space becomes clearer every year.  We are thrilled that this year’s Green Economy Bond will include funding for farmland preservation as well as open space and forest protection. It’s an investment that will provide returns for generations to come.”

Kate Sayles, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Land Trust Council, said “the Council is proud to have collaborated with our partner organizations to secure $5 million for farmland conservation in the FY25 budget. This critical funding will ensure that vital farmland is preserved, having important ripple effects that include making that farmland accessible to new and beginning farmers, providing a crucial tool for succession planning and the future of farming in Rhode Island, and providing Rhode Islanders with important natural climate solutions.”

Cris Coffin, Senior Policy Advisor and Director of American Farmland Trust’s National Agricultural Land Network noted that investments in farmland protection make it possible for senior farmers to retire without selling their land for development. “The ALP and Farmland Access Program are vital tools that allow farmers to tap into the equity of their land—to reinvest in their operation, or to step back and transfer their land to a younger producer eager to start or expand their business.

“The Ocean State must increase farmland protection – and access to farmland – to retain its farms, grow farming opportunity and strengthen its local food system,” said James Habana Hafner, New England Director, American Farmland Trust. “The $5 million dedicated to farmland preservation within the Green Economy Bond represents a significant step forward in the state’s efforts to protect farmland and increase access to land for new and beginning farmers. This also increases the resiliency of the state’s economy and food system, especially in the face of the growing impacts of climate change and disruptions in our food system, such as those we experienced during the COVID pandemic.”

Thank you to Governor Mckee and the RI State Legislatures, and congratulations to the state of RI for this significant win. 

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Eliza Paterson

New England Policy Associate

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