September E-News: Responding to the Urgent Issue of Farmland Loss and Farm Bill Still Ticking

Pennsylvania corn field with morning fog

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


Impacts of the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program

FRPP Report Cover Image.jpgAn assessment rolled out by American Farmland Trust this month reveals that the federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP), administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, keeps land available for agriculture, improves agricultural viability, encourages on-farm conservation and helps farmers gain access to land. Impacts of the Federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program: An Assessment Based on Interviews with Participating Landowners, a collaboration with Dr. J. Dixon Esseks at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, sought to determine if the FRPP was achieving its stated purposes and delivering public benefits.

The assessment found that 84 percent of landowners who sold easements reinvested proceeds to improve their farms: from building structures, to buying equipment, purchasing land or installing conservation practices. “The research demonstrates that the program is a comprehensive response to an urgent issue,” says Julia Freedgood, AFT’s managing director of Farmland and Community Initiatives. Three quarters of landowners reported the application of at least one conservation practice to reduce erosion, prevent water pollution, enhance wildlife habitat, prevent overgrazing or minimize water use. 

Farm Bill Nears Completion, Final Bill Possible This Fall

Farmer walking through his potato fieldCongress has returned to Washington, D.C., to resume legislative work for the remainder of the year. While many priorities are crowding the agenda, there is a real possibility that the Farm Bill will begin moving again. A vote on a nutrition-only bill is expected any day in the House. After that vote, the House is expected to name conferees to the Farm Bill conference committee, beginning the formal process of reconciling the differences between the two bills. Maintaining conservation programs with no further funding cuts and relinking conservation compliance to crop insurance premium subsidies remain top priorities.

American Farmland Trust led an advocacy campaign that resulted in nearly 25,000 letters to members of Congress supporting completion of the Farm Bill. Thanks to supporters like you across the country, momentum is picking up to get this bill done with strong conservation measures in place. Stay tuned for more information from American Farmland Trust as the Farm Bill continues to move.

I Love My Farmers Market ButtonTop Markets Announced in the I Love My Farmers Market Celebration

The I Love My Farmers Market Celebration witnessed an outpouring of support for farmers markets across the country. The national celebration, which closed on September 9, encouraged shoppers to pledge to spend an extra $10 at their local farmers market. This year’s celebration helped put more than $250,000 directly into the pockets of family farmers. American Farmland Trust is honored to recognize the final list of the Top 100 Most Celebrated Farmers Markets and the Top 3 Farmers Markets in Every State for increasing their community’s commitment to local farmers. 


Cash Strapped California Cities Should Shun Sprawl to Save Money, New Report Finds

spring orchard in bloomDoes building more houses and malls really mean increased property and retail tax revenue for California cities? At an event in Clovis on September 5, Joe Minicozzi—a community developer and planner with Asheville, North Carolina-based Urban3—unveiled a new study focused on promoting smart growth strategies that will protect farmland and revitalize the Fresno and Clovis downtowns. The study found that, for both communities, downtown properties generate much more tax revenue per acre than the big-box retail and residential development that is eating up farmland surrounding these cities.

American Farmland Trust applauds the efforts to implement more smart growth development strategies. Added Daniel O’Connell, AFT’s program manager in the San Joaquin Valley, "Infill development and smart growth principles are inextricably linked to farmland conservation in the San Joaquin Valley."

Funding Awarded to Support Soil Health Projects on Virginia Farms

Virginia corn field in late summerThe USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recently approved seven Conservation Innovation Grant projects in Virginia totaling more than $406,000. A project led by American Farmland Trust will deal with improving soil health on Virginia farmland to increase productivity, profitability and the positive environmental impact of agriculture. The grants, which are funded through the Farm Bill’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program, assist organizations working with farmers who wish to develop and test new conservation technologies and approaches. “Conservation Innovation Grants help spur creativity and problem-solving on our nation’s farms, ranches and forests,” said Jack Bricker, state conservationist for NRCS in Virginia. “We are glad that these groups can help in USDA’s efforts to advance agriculture and to protect our natural resources.”

Report Reveals Recomendations for Sustaining Agriculture in Frederick and Montgomery Counties

Jim Baird presenting at FAME ConferenceA group of farm, conservation and public health leaders from Maryland's Frederick and Montgomery counties gathered September 16 to discuss recommendations for maintaining the health and economic vitality of the counties’ agriculture industry. Centered on a report entitled Farming At Metro’s Edge: Securing the Future of Agriculture and Farm Communities in Frederick and Montgomery Counties, the gathering was designed to formulate ideas and actions to keep agriculture productive and profitable for the next generation. “AFT has been pleased to participate in this 100 percent grassroots effort by citizens and organizations to bring the community together to talk about the future of farming so close to the nation’s capital,” explained Jim Baird, Mid-Atlantic director for American Farmland Trust. The report drew from proceedings from the Farming at Metro’s Edge conference last January. 

Farm and Forest Land Stewardship Theme of September 21 Virginia Conference

farmer holding tomatoesMid-Atlantic Director Jim Baird will present on Preserving Farmland, Cultivating Farmers: Government Programs and Roles for Non-Profits in Agricultural Sustainability at the 2013 Committee on the Stewardship of Creation’s conference. This year’s conference, focused on The Challenge of Food Sustainability, will be looking at preservation of forests and farmland, and will also give more express attention to the health of rivers and the Chesapeake Bay, aquaculture and fisheries. Baird’s presentation will consider how the American Farmland Trust and other farmland conservation organizations contribute as advocates and supporters to the reach and effectiveness of government programs supporting farmland preservation and farming transitions. Find out more and register for the conference in Richmond, Virginia. 

American Farmland Trust Sponsored Cover Crops Meetings Draw Unexpected Crowds in Illinois

Illinois cover crop meeting crowdPartnering with seven central Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts, American Farmland Trust is providing cover crop educational programs to encourage farmers to learn more about the soil health benefits of cover cropping. Interest in cover crops is increasing in Illinois with farmers looking to improve their soil organic matter, nutrient retention, water infiltration and many other positive soil attributes. Attendance at the meetings held in August and September far exceeded expectations. “Farmer participation at these events is surprising and encouraging. We were expecting to get about 25 per meeting but have been averaging more like 60,” explained Mike Baise, Midwest director for American Farmland Trust.

Sharing the No Farms No Food® Message at the Farm Progress Show

Mike Baise at 2013 Farm Progress ShowDuring the very hot days of August 27 to 29, American Farmland Trust’s Midwest Director Mike Baise participated in the Partners in Conservation tent at the Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Illinois. Baise was joined by farmer cover crop experts along with the Illinois Department of Agriculture, the Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, and the Council for Best Management Practices. In spite of the heat, an estimated 2,000 farmers passed through the tent during the three day event where Baise helped spread AFT’s No Farms No Food® message. “The Partners in Conservation at the Farm Progress Show were thrilled at the level of interest in cover crops,” said Baise. 

Massachusetts Report Highlights Economic Value of Conservation

cranberry harvestFor every $1spent on conservation in Massachusetts, a $4 economic gain is made, finds a new report authored by The Trust for Public Lands. Cris Coffin, American Farmland Trust’s New England director, and other Massachusetts conservation partners celebrated the report, The Return on Investment in Parks and Open Space in Massachusetts, which was released at a September 4 event at the State House. The event featured several speakers, including state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan. “We were delighted to hear Secretary Sullivan promise to ‘double down’ on conservation efforts,” said Coffin, who notes that the report comes as the Legislature is considering a new Environmental Bond Bill. The report was showcased at a September 18 hearing on the Bond before the Joint Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. American Farmland Trust will be urging the Committee to provide at least $11 million annually for the Commonwealth’s Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program. In fiscal year 2013, the program invested approximately $11 million to permanently protect over 1,100 acres of prime and statewide important farmland. 

Nominations Open for Connecticut's Farmland Preservation Pathfinder Awards

Farmland Pathfinder award logoThe Working Lands Alliance, a project of American Farmland Trust, is pleased to announce that nominations are open for its 2013 Farmland Preservation Pathfinder Awards. Established in 2003, these prestigious awards are designed to recognize individuals and groups that have significantly advanced farmland preservation in Connecticut through leadership, advocacy, planning and education. Award winners over the last 10 years have included municipalities, land trusts, farmers, town committees and many individuals and groups that have worked tirelessly to preserve Connecticut's most valuable and vulnerable resource—its farmland.    

Nomination forms and instructions can be downloaded at Nominations are open now through October 18, 2013, in three categories. Award winners will be honored at the Working Lands Alliance Annual Meeting on November 13. 

It’s Time to Start Protecting Farms Again in New York State

Bos Haven dairy farm, New YorkThe Hudson Valley’s Dutchess County was once home to 250 farms. Bos Haven Farm, recently protected with funding from the state’s Farmland Protection Program, is one of only 18 farms that remain today. Watching neighboring farms be subdivided for housing development, farmers Tim and Carolyn Marshall didn’t want the same thing to happen to their land. “Once land gets chopped up into building lots it’s gone,” said Tim Marshall. Farms like Bos Haven have been saved, but when funding for farmland conservation was slashed during the economic meltdown of 2008, the state stopped taking on new projects. “Since then, Governor Cuomo and the Legislature have started to rebuild funding,” said David Haight, New York state director of American Farmland Trust. “Now it's time to start protecting new farms again in New York.” 

Harvest Opportunity with a Beginning Farmer/Student Discount

2013 Harvesting Opportunities conferenceThanks to generous support from our conference sponsors, discounted registration for the Harvesting Opportunities in New York: Growing Local Food Economies & Protecting Farmland is now available to a limited number of beginning farmers and students. The conference, to be held on November 20 in downtown Albany, will offer workshops on topics such as land access for beginning farmers and serving food from New York farms on college campuses. “This conference is for people interested in growing local food economies, protecting farmland from development and supporting the next generation of farmers,” said Laura Ten Eyck, senior manager of New York projects and outreach for American Farmland Trust.  For more about the beginning farmer/student discount email

Farm Aid is Coming to Town

Willie Nelson at Farm AidFarm Aid 2013 is coming to Saratoga Springs, the hometown of American Farmland Trust’s New York field office, on September 21. Look for us in the HOMEGROWN Village with their No Farms No Food®: The Apple as Planet Earth demonstration and see a single apple reveal how finite our farmland and topsoil are—and how seriously they are threatened by real estate development and erosion. “Looking at the earth as an apple really makes you understand why we must protect the soil that produces our food,” said American Farmland Trust intern and Skidmore student Rachel Bowen, who will be working at the HOMEGROWN Village. 

Big Planting Day on the Snoqualmie River, September 28

hands planting small treeAmerican Farmland Trust is organizing a major community event along the Snoqualmie River on September 28. More than 100 volunteers will work beside farmers on six farms in the valley to replant buffers along this important salmon river. Afterwards, the entire crew will meet for a community lunch at a historic dairy farm in the valley. More volunteers are needed; please contact Christy Carr at if you are interested in helping out.

Coming Soon: Webinars on Planning and Zoning for Agriculture

Farmers-market-spread.pngFollowing up on American Farmland Trust’s successful Planning for Agriculture conference in Seattle in April, the Pacific Northwest staff are hosting a series of webinars on planning and zoning for agriculture in the Northwest. The webinars, which are scheduled to start in October, will address topics such as how to construct an effective zoning ordinance and how to accommodate agritourism in rural areas. "Every eight years, counties around Washington update their comprehensive plans," says Robin Fay, project manager in the Pacific Northwest office, "This is a great opportunity to improve county policies and programs for farms, farmers and farmland."

Governor Commits to No Net Loss of Farmland 

Columbia River Orchard, WashingtonFarmland protection in Washington got a major boost this week as Governor Jay Inslee announced his goals to achieve no net loss of farmland by 2015 and an increase of more than 100,000 acres of farmland in Washington by 2020. American Farmland Trust staff are in discussions with the Governor's agricultural advisors on how to accomplish these goals using policies and programs to disclose, avoid, minimize and compensate for farmland losses associated with new development. "No net loss is a bold goal," said Dennis Canty, AFT’s Pacific Northwest director. "We'd like to help the Governor get it done."

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