Take a Seat at the Table for the Next Farm Bill

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Welcome to the April issue of E-news. Click here to view a version of E-news on the web. Can't wait until next month's E-news? Check out our Farmland Report blog.

Amidst Frenzy, New Voices Emerge for 2012 Farm Bill

Older farmer standing near a tractorThe nation’s capital is in a farm bill frenzy this month as the Agriculture Committee in both the House and the Senate prepares to move forward. Visions for a robust American agricultural community paired with a shaky fiscal climate are shaping the examination of government policies and programs that support America’s farmers and ranchers. The Senate is out ahead, with rumors flying that they will release their draft text for the next farm bill before the weekend hits and Chairwoman Stabenow announcing a markup for next week. The House is now forging ahead as well, having announced a month of subcommittee hearings, beginning with a conservation hearing next week.

From preserving conservation funding to creating market opportunities for farmers and ranchers, diverse voices continue to be brought to the table to address federal farm policy. At American Farmland Trust, our policy experts have the track record and credibility to keep the farm bill moving forward to strong bipartisan passage. But we need grassroots supporters like you to take a seat at the table. Take action and sign our petition asking Congress to honor its responsibility to preserve farmland and farming and support our nation’s farmers.


Bay Area Agricultural Sustainability Initiative Enters New Phase

California coast with farmlandAmerican Farmland Trust is taking the next step in promoting a more robust regional agriculture and food system in the San Francisco Bay Area. Thanks to the support of the California Coastal Conservancy, we will be conducting a feasibility study and developing a business plan for a regional agricultural economic development finance corporation as part of our on-going Bay Area Agricultural Sustainability Initiative. This would attract capital and strategically invest it to promote increased supply of and demand for locally-produced food. "The Coastal Conservancy recognizes the significant contributions that Bay Area farms and ranches make to our quality of life and economic vitality,” remarked Amy Hutzel, Program Manager for the San Francisco Bay Area Coastal Conservancy. "We are pleased to provide this grant to the American Farmland Trust to increase economic investment in our working lands.” Our partners in the project are the Greenbelt Alliance and Sustainable Agriculture Education. 

Progress Continues Towards Achieving California’s Agricultural Vision

San Joaquin Valley, California farmlandSince 2008, California’s agricultural leaders, environmentalists and representatives of other groups established California Agricultural Vision to set a strategic course for a healthy population, a clean environment, and a profitable agricultural industry.  A new report, From Strategies to Results, highlights current progress by identifying more than 40 initiatives in 12 strategic categories that are currently underway. The report charts many successes, but there is much work that remains to achieve the vision of California’s agricultural leadership and your input will help. Which strategy do you believe should be the top priority? Which initiatives do you find the most promising? Please take a moment and share your thoughts.

Farmland Protection Among Top Priorities to Improve San Joaquin Valley Economy

Tractor in San Joaquin Valley.jpgMore than 200 leaders from business, agriculture, government and nonprofits who recently gathered in Fresno to discuss strategies for improving the economy of the San Joaquin Valley, ranked farmland preservation among the highest priorities for state action. The findings of the meeting, which focused on “Building Prosperity for the Valley’s Ag Value Chain,” will be brought to a state-wide summit on economic prosperity this May. Participating in the conference was American Farmland Trust’s California Director Ed Thompson, Jr., who said, “This is further evidence that the San Joaquin Valley is beginning to recognize that its agricultural land is not unlimited and that affirmative steps must be taken to conserve it.”

Female Landowners in Illinois Share Their Stories About Farms

Women landowners learning circles in IllinoisThe face of American agriculture is undergoing a dramatic shift. As the overall farm population ages during the next 20 years, 70 percent of farmland is expected to change hands and women may own up to 75 percent of the land that is transferred. On April 16, American Farmland Trust’s Center for Agriculture in the Environment and Midwest office, along with the Women, Food and Agriculture Network and local partners, hosted the first Lady Landowners Learning Circle in Illinois. Twenty-two women took part and shared their stories about managing their family’s farmland, and the workshop was featured on Iowa Public Radio as part of broader outreach to female landowners. “The next 10 years represent a significant window of opportunity for engaging women landowners in conservation,” said Ann Sorensen, Director of Research at American Farmland Trust. “We must act now before the next wave of land transitions begins.” 

Join us for the 2012 Slow Living Summit in Vermont

Vermont farm in springCome join American Farmland Trust at the 2012 Slow Living Summit to be held in Brattleboro, Vermont, May 30 to June 1. Cris Coffin, our New England Director, will speak June 1 on Farm to Plate: What Opportunities are Needed to Grow It. On this panel, Cris and others will highlight the challenges and opportunities in determining consumer need for local and regional foods and how to make regional food policy more competitive and scalable. Summit registration is now open. Join us for an inspiring and information-filled conversation about Food and Agriculture policy in New England. We hope we will see you there!

Legislators Urge Massachusetts Governor to Restore Farmland Protection Funding

Massachusetts_iStock_000014757276XSmall.jpgConcerned by the decision of the Patrick Administration to cut funding for the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Program this year, 20 Massachusetts state senators and representatives recently urged the Governor and Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan to restore funding for the program in 2013. Legislators were briefed on potential impacts of the Administration’s decision by Cris Coffin and others who attended the annual Agriculture Day at the State Capitol. “We are incredibly grateful to those legislators who weighed in with Governor Patrick and Secretary Sullivan on this issue,” says Coffin. She urges those who care about the protecting APR program to follow suit and be in contact with the governor’s office and their own state legislators.  

Light at End of Tunnel Getting Brighter for New York’s Farmland Protection Program

New York farm with rainbowAs with the state’s overall economic recovery, this past fiscal year has shown brighter signs for efforts to protect farmland from development in New York. In Fiscal Year 2011-2012, the state worked with farmers, communities and private land trusts to close on 19 farmland protection projects, paying out more than $13 million, with an additional $2 million approved for disbursement this month. “We are encouraged that New York is investing in our farmers and protecting the land that we need for farming and growing food,” said David Haight, New York State Director for American Farmland Trust.  

Deep Roots Holstein Farm in New York is Ready and Waiting to Grow

New York, Washington County farm familyDeep Roots Holstein Farm, a dairy farm in Washington County, New York, is on deck this year to receive funding from New York State’s Farmland Protection Program in exchange for the development rights to 340 acres of their farmland. Farmers Albert and Donna Marns have three young sons and plans to expand. “We have immediate plans for the funds we will receive from selling our development rights,” explained Donna Marns. “Investing in a new, modernized milking parlor will enable us to grow our operation and produce more milk. We’re relying on this money to come through so we can get started.” 

Survey Shows New York Towns Taking Action for Agriculture

New York trees is spring blossomAmerican Farmland Trust conducted a survey of New York towns that have developed “agriculture and farmland protection plans.” These plans, developed with funding from the state’s Farmland Protection Program, analyze the importance of agriculture and farmland to municipalities and recommend ways towns can sustain agriculture. The survey found half the towns with plans in place have created agricultural advisory committees and are in the process of updating their zoning and land use regulations to be more farm-friendly. Many towns reported a need for increased financial resources to help them implement recommendations in their plans. 

In Search of “The Farmland 500” in the Puget Sound

Washington State farm with snowy mountainAmerican Farmland Trust is ramping up a multi-year campaign to protect farmland in the Puget Sound region. The campaign will focus on two initiatives. The first seeks to protect the large blocks of farmland that remain in the region with a combination of better zoning, local tax and land protection tools, and monitoring by farmland advocates. The second focuses on building a "green wall" between subdivisions and farm areas by buying development rights from farms on the edge. Dennis Canty, Pacific Northwest Director for American Farmland Trust, is beginning talks with other farming and conservation groups to build a coalition to drive the campaign, and is forming a group of local farmland advocates —"the Farmland 500"—to help build community support and advocate for county-by-county progress.


Pioneers in Conservation Comes to the Snoqualmie Valley

Snoqualmie Valley, Washington farmlandThis summer, we will offer grants to several farmers in the Snoqualmie Valley of western Washington through our revitalized Pioneers in Conservation grant program. The focus of the program this year is to determine how to target grants to the highest environmental priorities, encourage neighboring farmers to cooperate on larger projects, and leverage funding from farm bill incentives and other conservation incentive programs. American Farmland Trust is considering a second watershed in eastern Washington as another pilot for this program. The results of the Pioneers program will help steer incentive funding to the Voluntary Stewardship Program adopted by the state legislature in 2011.

Looking Beneath the Surface at Threatened Farm Landscapes

Methow Valley, Washington farmlandIn March, our Pacific Northwest staff and interns traveled to the Yamhill Valley and Wallowa Valley in Oregon and the Methow Valley in eastern Washington as part of our project to identify the most threatened farm landscapes in the Pacific Northwest. Dennis Canty explained, "People look at these landscapes and think they'll always be exactly the same. They don't see the problems just below the surface—issues with sprawling growth, rising land prices, and competition for water. Farmers need our help to keep these places intact."  A full report on the seven threatened landscapes will be released in early June.

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