November E-News: What's Next for the Farm Bill

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Welcome to the November 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. 

With the Election Over, What’s Next for the Farm Bill?

Photos-drop.jpgIt’s time. Election season has come to a close and, more than a month after the expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill, America’s farmers and ranchers are ready for certainty in farm policy. What remains to be seen is whether Congress will move to pass a new Farm Bill before year’s end. Versions of the bill have passed the full Senate and the House Agriculture Committee with clear bipartisan support, and the status quo election—meaning no leadership changes in either chamber of Congress or the administration—is the best case scenario for moving forward in the lame duck. “With the election season complete, it is now high time for Congress to focus on the critical work at hand and include the five-year farm bill along with other items of unfinished business in the lame duck,” explains Jon Scholl, president of American Farmland Trust, in a recent AgriPulse op-ed.

Victories at the Polls for Farmland Protection

hillside-farm-in-the-fall.jpgThe November 6 elections saw an outpouring of support for open space measures, including funding for farmland protection. According to a tally compiled by The Trust for Public Lands, 46 out of 57 measures on local and statewide ballots in 21 states passed—an approval rate of 81 percent—providing more than $2 billion, including $767 million in new budget allocations.  Of these dollars, $112.5 million includes funding for working lands in 13 state or local programs across 9 states. "It's clear that, even in tight economic times, people across the country still see the economic and environmental value of protecting working farms and ranches," says Bob Wagner, Senior Policy and Program Advisor for American Farmland Trust.


Berks County, Pa. Shares Rich Agricultural and Community Connection

Mid-Atlantic-corn-and-hay-field.jpgA series recently featured in the Reading Eagle highlights the shared commitment among farmers and other community members to preserve farmland in Berks County. As stories like those of the BrownStricker, and Wagner families demonstrate, farmland protection has been critical to food production and jobs in the state. In 1987, Pennsylvania voters approved $100 million for a first of its kind farmland protection program that American Farmland Trust helped to design and promote. It has become the most successful program of its kind in the nation, having protected nearly half a million acres on more than 4,000 family farms in 57 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. As previously reported, the program faced the elimination of state funding earlier this year under Governor Corbett’s 2012-2013 proposed budget. According to American Farmland Trust's Mid-Atlantic Director Jim Baird, “it was great reporting, like these stories from the Eagle, from all over the state, combined with a massive citizen’s response to our ‘Coalition to Save Farms’ that restored the funding and enabled the Commonwealth to show the nation the importance of ensuring that we all have farms in our future.”

Improving Water Quality in Midwestern Watersheds

Ankeny-LMW-110112.jpgOn October 31 and November 1, American Farmland Trust, Sand County Foundation, Iowa Soybean Association and The Nature Conservancy convened the third meeting of leaders involved with water quality projects in the Midwest. Forty-four leaders from Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois exchanged information about their USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service Mississippi River Basin Initiative (MRBI) projects. The group discussed ways to engage farmers, target efforts and scale up pilot efforts into broader initiatives. Overall, they identified two trends for project success: completing a watershed plan with local farmers and using performance-based tools that provide feedback.

Full Speed Ahead for Interstate Water Quality Trading

Ohio River Basin Map and barnAmerican Farmland Trust met with project partners in Columbus, Ohio, on November 13 to design an online registry for the Ohio River Basin Water Quality Trading Market; review our modeling, credit calculation tools and in-stream verification procedures; and discuss our initial farmer engagements and contracts. During the next two years, the project will execute pilot trades with farmers in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. These states signed the nation’s first interstate pilot trading plan in August 2012 to allow power plants and municipal wastewater treatment plants to purchase nutrient reductions from farmers.

Precision Agriculture and Water Quality Trading

Midwest-farmer-smiling.jpgAs part of our work in the Ohio River Basin, American Farmland Trust recently launched a two-year project to develop and refine the first credit estimator for precision agriculture variable rate technology (VRT) practices in water quality trading programs. Data from universities, John Deere and Trimble will compare crop uptake budgets with applied nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen) and use modeling at the farm-field level with edge-of-field monitors to account for excess nutrients. We will test and refine the resulting protocol with farmers and Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky state regulatory agencies. The work is supported by a USDA Natural Resource Conservation Services Conservation Innovation Grant, The Mosaic Foundation and collaborating partners.

Farmland Protection Retreat Focuses on New England Opportunities & Challenges

New-England-dairy-farm.jpgA recent retreat organized by American Farmland Trust brought together more than 50 of the region’s leading farmland protection practitioners, including state agency staff, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) State Conservationists and program managers, and land trust representatives, to brainstorm farmland protection challenges and strategies and discuss the federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP). Joining the group were New Hampshire Commissioner of Agriculture Lorraine Merrill, Connecticut Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Reviczky, and three guests from the national USDA-NRCS office, including Richard Sims, NRCS Regional Conservationist for the Northeast, and Jeremy Stone, the national FRPP program manager. Cris Coffin, American Farmland Trust New England Director, notes that AFT is working to make this retreat an annual event. “This kind of regional shoptalk is invaluable both in helping to strengthen relationships and in advancing farmland protection innovations around the region,” remarks Coffin.  

Rhode Island and Maine Voters Approve Farmland Protection Funding

Maine-hayfield.jpgThe November 6 election brought welcome news for New England’s farmland owners, as voters in Rhode Island and Maine overwhelmingly supported ballot initiatives to finance state farmland protection programs. In Rhode Island, nearly 70 percent of voters approved $20 million in “Environmental Management” bonds, including $4.5 million for farmland protection. And in Maine, voters approved a $5 million bond replenishing funding for the Land for Maine’s Future Program, which has permanently protected more than 7,300 acres of productive farmland around the state. “Landowners continue to rely on these programs to finance retirement, transfer the farm to the next generation or expand the farm business,” says Cris Coffin, New England Director for American Farmland Trust. “Voters clearly understand that these programs are good investments in our environment and economy.”     

Severe Storms Reveal Bond Between Upstate Farmers and Downstate Consumers

“The bond between New York’s farmers and consumers has been demonstrated during the increasingly frequent severe storms affecting New York,” said David Haight, New York Director for American Farmland Trust. Last year, during Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, New York City dwellers came to the aid of suffering farmers, donating needed supplies. Last week, after Hurricane Sandy and the subsequent northeaster, upstate farmers were loading New York City-bound trucks. And in New York City, Greenmarket shoppers are buying bags of locally grown food to donate to those in need. 


Harvesting Opportunities Conference Tomorrow in Albany

Boy holding a turkeyFarms protected through the state’s Farmland Protection Program in the last fiscal year will be recognized during Harvesting Opportunities in New York: Growing Local Food Economies and Protecting Farmland, a conference that brings together farmers, public officials, land trusts, local food and public health leaders, and concerned citizens to take a serious look at the potential to grow New York’s local food economy by connecting farmers and consumers. “This conference will inspire New Yorkers to support agriculture, strengthen local farm and food economies, and get involved in protecting farmland,” said David Haight, New York State Director of American Farmland Trust.

Erie County Ag Plan to Go Before County Executive and Legislature

Erie-County-New-York-grapes.jpgErie County’s draft Agricultural and Farmland Protection Plan will soon be reviewed by the county executive and legislature. The development of this plan was funded by the state Farmland Protection Program, administered by the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets. Erie County is important to the county economy, in 2007 grossing $117 million in sales. “Erie County’s Agricultural and Farmland Protection Plan will bolster county support of local farms and farmland conservation efforts for the next decade,” said Diane Held, senior New York field manager for American Farmland Trust, which is working with Erie County to develop the plan.

American Farmland Trust Recognized for Conservation Partnerships in Washington

Puget Sound farm and farmland

On November 7, Washington’s King Conservation District presented its 2012 Best Partnering Organization Award to American Farmland Trust’s Pacific Northwest office. The award specifically recognized AFT’s Farmland Forever campaign—an effort to protect an additional 100,000 acres of farmland in the Puget Sound region—and the cooperative work on an innovative conservation program to restore streamside habitat in the Snoqualmie Valley. “This award means a great deal to us,” said Dennis Canty, AFT Pacific Northwest Director. “We’re a small organization with a really big mission: saving farmland and farming in the Pacific Northwest. Without partners like the King Conservation District, we wouldn’t get anywhere.”

Meetings with Oregon Farmland Leaders

Orchard-in-Oregon.jpgPacific Northwest Director for American Farmland Trust Dennis Canty has met with Oregon food and farm leaders in Portland and Medford in recent weeks to discuss issues related to farmland protection in the state. There is a good bit of confidence in the state's landmark land use planning approach, which has classified the majority of farmland in Exclusive Farm Use zoning and has resulted in one of the lowest farmland conversion rates in the United States. Nevertheless, advocates are concerned that urban growth boundaries, which are drawn to accommodate 20-year growth targets, are being expanded onto urban-edge farms. Easements to protect farmland are not widely used in the state, partly because Oregon's rigorous farmland zoning decreases the difference between residential and agricultural value of land that establishes the price of an easement.  Local advocates are searching for alternatives for valuing easements that would allow them to be used more frequently to permanently protect farmland in Oregon.  

Support for Increased State Funding for Farmland Easements in Washington

Palouse-Washington-at-harvest.jpgAmerican Farmland Trust is organizing a coalition of farmers, ranchers and agricultural organizations to support a significant increase to state funding for purchase of easements on farm and ranch land. The most significant state source is the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program that has had a farmland account since 2005. The goal this session, beginning in January, is to increase farmland funding through this account from the $750,000 provided in 2010–2012—the lowest level of funding since the creation of the account—to $8.4 million for 2013–2015. This would allow funding of 22 projects around the state, nearly doubling the number of farmland projects done since the creation of the account. Contact the Pacific Northwest regional office at 206-860-4222 if you'd like to help.

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