January E-News: Congress Returns, Farm Bill Action Expected Early

 

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Welcome to the January issue of E-news. Click here to view a version of E-news on the web

Congress Returns, Farm Bill Action Expected Early

FamilyFarmersCongress returned to Washington, D.C., on January 6 to begin the 2014 legislative session, and at the top of the agenda is finishing the Farm Bill. Agriculture negotiators and their staff worked through the holidays to prepare a final bill, and a vote is expected early in this session of Congress. 

“American Farmland Trust continues to be the leading advocate for strong farmland protection funding in the Farm Bill as well as for major reform by relinking conservation compliance to crop insurance premium assistance,” said Jeremy Peters, American Farmland Trust director of federal policy. “While negotiations are ongoing, final votes on the Farm Bill could occur any day.”

These final days of Farm Bill negotiations are critical in determining farm and food policy that will be in place for the next five years. Stay up to date on the latest policy developments at www.farmbillfacts.org.

OUR WORK AROUND THE COUNTRY

Profiles in Stewardship, How California Farmers and Ranchers are Producing a Better Environment

StewardshipProfilesOver the past several decades, California farmers and ranchers have made tremendous progress toward reducing the environmental impact of food production, even as they have increased production itself to unprecedented levels. This portfolio of case studies compiled by American Farmland Trust highlights some outstanding examples of environmental stewardship by California farmers and ranchers.

“These producers are making environmental stewardship an integral and prominent feature of the California brand. That’s one of the key goals set by the State Board of Food & Agriculture when it adopted ‘California Agricultural Vision’ as a blueprint for the sustainability of agriculture,” said Edward Thompson, Jr., California state director for American Farmland Trust. “As consumers become more and more aware of the connection between their food and the environment, this will give California farmers and ranchers a competitive advantage. ” What remains is for other producers to follow the example set by these outstanding stewards and for government and the public to give them the support and understanding they need to meet the challenge.

American Farmland Trust Promotes Illinois Conservation Cropping Seminars 

Conservation CroppingIllinois farmers interested in learning how conservation practices can help their farms be more profitable will have the opportunity at any of three regional meetings. American Farmland Trust with partners, including the Illinois Department of Agriculture, USDA-NRCS, Illinois Stewardship Alliance and several county Soil & Water Conservation Districts organized the Illinois Conservation Cropping Seminars for this winter. The meetings feature several conservation experts and a webcast from Howard Buffett, a strong supporter of agricultural conservation cropping systems. “This has been a great collaborative project for AFT and its Illinois partners to promote cover crops and soil health,” said Michael Baise, American Farmland Trust Midwest director. “The objective of the seminars is not only to help farmers improve the economic sustainability of their operations, but their environmental stewardship as well.” More information, including seminar dates and locations, can be found on the American Farmland Trust website.

American Farmland Trust Midwest Director Named to University of Illinois Departmental Advisory Committee

Illinois UniversityMichael Baise, American Farmland Trust Midwest director, has been named to the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics External Advisory Committee for a three-year term. Professor and Department Head Dr. Paul Ellinger made the announcement January 10th. “I am pleased to be invited to serve my graduate school institution in any advisory capacity and I am especially interested in learning more about the Department’s new research center on farmland, the TIAA-CREF Center for Farmland Research,” said Baise. “The Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics is highly ranked nationally among institutions that offer teaching and research in this field so I am flattered to be invited and look forward to getting back on campus.”

Illinois Soil and Water Conservation District Annual Training Meeting

SWDCTrainningOn December 3 at their annual training meeting, Illinois Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) employees were treated to the comedic stylings of American Farmland Trust’s Midwest Director Michael Baise and our partner in conservation, Dan Towery (Ag Conservation Solutions). They engaged the post-lunch crowd by role playing a conversation between a farmer experienced with managing cover crops (Dan) and a farmer new to the practice (Michael). Cover crops are a hot topic all over the Midwest this year, and American Farmland Trust is partnering with the SWCDs to provide education and outreach. Michael said “Dan and I were very pleased with the reception. I could tell our role play was successful by the questions we got from the crowd”. This lighthearted, but informative, session was the most popular of the day. Dan noted that “it is important to have a little fun when you are also providing information.”

American Farmland Trust and Williams College Team Up to Survey Local Landowners 

WilliamsCollegeA recent survey of farmland owners in Williamstown and Adams, Massachusetts, showed strong interest among landowners in leasing their land to new or established farmers. Fifty-one percent of respondents were either interested or very interested in doing so, or interested in learning more about the possibility. Landowners were also receptive to various types of farm enterprises, though many expressed reservations about large livestock. The survey was conducted by a team of Williams College students—Nick Kraus, Julieanne Fontana, Isaac Maze-Rothstein, and Jamie Dickhaus—under the guidance of Williams College Professor Sarah Gardner and American Farmland Trust’s New England Director Cris Coffin. Berkshire Regional Planning Commission assisted with identifying farm parcels and landowners. Survey findings were shared with local Agricultural Commissions and with groups working in the Berkshire region on farmland access and protection. “We were surprised at the level of receptivity among landowners in seeing their land more actively farmed,” said Coffin. “These results point to real opportunity for additional land access, if we can provide interested landowners with the information and assistance they need.”

Governor Cuomo Nominates Richard Ball as Commissioner of Agriculture 

Richard BallRichard Ball, Schoharie County farmer and longtime friend of American Farmland Trust, has been nominated by Governor Cuomo for the position of Commissioner of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. Ball and his family own and operate Schoharie Valley Farms, which grows vegetables, small fruits and greenhouse plants on 200 acres of fertile farmland along the Schoharie Creek. Schoharie Valley Farms wholesales and retails its produce from its farm market, The Carrot Barn, as well as through brokers and to restaurants in New York City.  “Richard is a powerful advocate for agriculture and local food economies,” said David Haight, New York state director of American Farmland Trust. “We look forward to working with him to build stronger relationships between farmers and food consumers and grow the business of agriculture in New York state.”

Keeping Farmland in Agriculture Controls Escalating Property Taxes 

Governor CuomoIn his State of the State Address last week, New York Governor Cuomo announced plans to spur economic growth in the state by reducing property taxes. “The main tax burden in New York state is the property tax. That is the tax you hear New Yorkers complaining about from one end of the state to the other,” said Cuomo. “As a matter of fact New Yorkers don’t just pay a high property tax; they pay the highest property tax in the nation.”

Keeping farmland in agriculture is a vital tool for controlling property taxes. American Farmland Trust’s Cost of Community Services Studies have shown that while developed land provides more property tax revenue, the cost of public services such development requires far exceeds the tax revenue generated. Public investment in farmland conservation will be repaid as protected farms remain in agricultural production, helping maintain lower property taxes while contributing to economic growth.

Training Professionals To Aid Transition to Next Generation in the Northeast

Kathy RuhfFarmland Advisors, a training program on farm transfer and farmland access options led by American Farmland Trust and Land For Good, convened 70 agricultural professionals from across New England and New York in Albany on November 18th and 19th. “Getting ‘face time’ amongst colleagues and future collaborators is really what this work is all about—and the conference reinforced my personal understanding of how to constructively engage with and support diverse constituencies,” said Kate Sann, preservation associate at  Westchester Land Trust. The conference was the centerpiece of a two-year program funded by the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Professional Development Program with additional support from the Farm Credit Northeast AgEnhancement Program and New York State Agricultural Mediation Program. Participants include land trust staff, agricultural service providers and other professionals working with farmers and farmland owners. Participants received training in building relationships with landowners, farmland leases, conservation easements and affordability mechanisms, family and personal issues in estate planning, and tax and financial considerations in farm transfers. Elisabeth Moore, director of conservation at Connecticut Farmland Trust said, “Farmland Advisors has educated me about programs and resources around farm transfer and farmland access that I did not know existed.” 

Pierce County, Washington, Planning

Pierce CountyAmerican Farmland Trust and the Pierce County Agricultural Roundtable hosted workshops on land use planning and incentives to promote agriculture in Pierce County, Washington, in November and December as part of an intensive technical assistance program aimed at improving the county's planning and zoning for is once thriving, now rebuilding, agricultural industry. American Farmland Trust is working with counties around Puget Sound to adapt their comprehensive plans to support farms and farmers as part of the Farmland Forever campaign. "Counties are where the action is on protecting farms and supporting farm businesses," said Robin Fay, American Farmland Trust project manager, "We're excited to work with the Pierce County Executive and Council on ways to build a better future for the county's farmers." 

No Farms, No Food Speakers Series in Seattle, Washington

B F KnightAmerican Farmland Trust hosted the first of its wintertime speakers series on topics related to local farms and local food. The speaker was Andrew Stout, CEO of Full Circle Farms, a major regional grower and distributor of organic food with more than 16,000 regular customers. "Andrew has done an amazing job growing a major farm business, and it was great to have him as our kick-off speaker this winter," said American Farmland Trust Regional Director Dennis Canty. The next event will be January 27, when Pike Place Market Director Ben Franz-Knight will talk about the role of the Market in farmland protection and local food in the region. Call the Pacific Northwest office at 206-860-4222 to reserve a spot.

Snoqualmie Conservation Workshops

SnoqualmieAmerican Farmland Trust staff and the Snohomish Conservation District hosted three community workshops with streamside agricultural landowners to provide information about conservation incentive programs and gather feedback from attendees on what works, what might, and what does not work. Participants were given an overview of salmon habitat and water quality issues in the watershed and heard short "speed talks" on eight different local, state and federal programs that offer financial and technical assistance to address these issues. The workshops, part of American Farmland Trust's Snohomish Farmland Restoration Initiative project funded by The Bullitt Foundation, aim to refine tools and strategies to build a better voluntary conservation incentives strategy for Puget Sound farmland. According to Christy Carr, American Farmland Trust's Pacific Northwest region conservation manager, "The only way to know what works for farmers is to ask them. These workshops provided the opportunity to ask —and what we heard was extremely valuable."

 

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