Farm Numbers Fall...and Other Key Facts from the New Census
You might think that America was growing more farms based on the 2002 Census of Agriculture released last month by USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). However, an apparent increase in the total number of farms, farmers and land in farms from the figures reported in the 1997 Census can be attributed to a change in methodology.
If you compare the adjusted 1997 data to the new Census numbers, you'll see familiar nationwide declines. The number of farms and principal farm operators is down 4% and land in farms dropped by about 2%. It's important to note that these downticks don't necessarily equal farms lost to development. NASS doesn't track what happens to the land if an operation no longer meets its farm definition or if a farm's acreage declines.
The newest data provide some good news suggesting how agriculture is adapting to urban pressure. The value of direct sales is up 37%, the number of small farms jumped 20% and urban-related products (nursery, greenhouse, floriculture and sod) grew to $14.7 billion.
Farm Conservation Programs Cut in House Spending Bill
During consideration of the fiscal year 2005 spending bill for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, House appropriators reduced funding for farm conservation programs by $520 million from the levels authorized in the 2002 Farm Bill. That's an almost 25% drop from the hard-won increases provided in the 2002 farm measure. Key program cuts included the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program ($13 million cut), Conservation Security Program (capped at $194 million), Environmental Quality Incentives Program ($190 million cut), and Wetlands Reserve Program (capped at 175,000 acres or 75,000 acres less than authorized).
The House action goes against the recommendations of AFT and other national conservation groups, who had noted the enormous backlog of applications to many of these conservation programs and urged House appropriators to provide the full funding authorized by the 2002 Farm Bill. AFT is working with its coalition partners and Senate allies to increase funding for these programs in the Senate version of the FY 05 spending bill.
Health of Agriculture Gauged in New Economic Study
What "vital signs" are key to assessing the health of agriculture? A new AFT study, Agricultural Economic Development for the Hudson Valley, takes the pulse of agriculture in New York's Hudson Valley, and concludes that the fate of the valley's renowned industry is at stake. Although Hudson Valley agriculture is generally considered to be in decline and farms are threatened by a number of factors, the study found many positive signs of industry health, beginning with the diversity of the regional agricultural economy.
Conservation Security Program and Grassland Reserve Program Interim Final Rules Issued
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently released an interim final rule for the Conservation Security Program, a new "green payments" program that pays farmers and ranchers to manage working lands for environmental benefits. Enrollment for producers located in "priority watersheds" will occur from July 6-30.
The interim final rule for the Grasslands Reserve Program provides notice as to how USDA will implement the program in fiscal year 2004 and seeks comments for implementation in 2005 and beyond. The purpose of the program is to assist landowners in restoring and protecting pastureland and rangeland through rental agreements and permanent easements. The comment period on the rule closes July 20. Read AFT's comments on the rule.
Mark your Calendars for AFT's National Conference, "Farming on the Edge: Meeting the Challenge"
Join us November 15-17, 2004, in historic Lexington, Kentucky, for Farming on the Edge: Meeting the Challenge. The three-day national conference offers more than 30 keynote, plenary and workshop sessions to help participants save the land, keep it healthy and plan for its future.
Kicking off the conference is "Burley, Bourbon and Bluegrass," a farm tour offering an exceptional view of the state's distinctive agricultural landscape. And on Tuesday evening, we'll celebrate Kentucky's commitment to farmland preservation with fine local food and drink, bluegrass music and the region's legendary hospitality. Invited speakers include farmer and author Wendell Berry, Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher, 2003 Steward of the Land award recipient Lorraine Merrill, and Christine Todd Whitman, former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator and New Jersey Governor.
Study Shows What's Needed to Protect a "Green Network" in Washington, DC Region
A new AFT-Chesapeake Bay Foundation report and mapping analysis identifies the potential for creating a "green network" of farms and forest lands to protect the quality of life for citizens in the Baltimore, MD - Washington DC- Northern VA region. The report also lays out the threats due to inadequate local policies and lack of regional planning. Across the country, communities, regions and states are moving smart growth objectives forward by visualizing land protection with maps.
News Briefs from Around the Country
New Jersey gets new land protection tool: A New Jersey law passed in March extends transfer of development rights (TDR) authority statewide. Hawaii farmland protection bills fail: Two bills that would have helped protect agricultural land in Hawaii failed in the legislature this spring.
Check out additional breaking policy updates from Maryland (laws make way for installment purchase agreements) and Connecticut (law requires farmland mitigation for eminent domain).