American Farmland Trust works to protect farmland and make sure farming remains a way of life in Washington. Our programs, projects and advocacy have impacted communities across the state.
American Farmland Trust’s Pacific Northwest Director Don Stuart recently submitted two working papers to Washington State Department of Agriculture’s Future of Farming committee; the papers present an overview of current agricultural land protection needs and efforts in Washington. The first, Agricultural Lands Statistics Working Paper [PDF], analyzes a variety of statistics that explain past farmland loss, predict its continued and elevated risk and provide the information necessary to develop effective prevention policies. The second paper, Status of Existing Programs for Protecting Agricultural Lands in Washington [PDF], outlines current farmland protection programs and their limitations. Together the papers present a comprehensive study of the problem of vanishing farmland, the existing policies, and improvements Washington can make to its agricultural land protection strategy.
The Pacific Northwest is one of the six areas targeted by AFT's Agriculture & Environment campaign to demonstrate agriculture's role in combating climate change and improving water quality. In Washington, AFT is building upon our recent victory in state legislation for passing a landmark bill (SB 6805) that will help establish new ecosystem services markets for farm and forest landowners, while also potentially improving the performance of existing environmental mitigation and restoration programs. Our work will focus on practices that provide the environmental commodities of wildlife habitat, biodiversity, and salmon recovery as well as nutrient and carbon credits. We'll also begin to implement the recommendations in our report to the Washington Governor’s Puget Sound Action Team on how to improve the effectiveness of conservation incentives for farmers and ranchers.
Our goal is to fully incorporate agriculture best management practices into a functioning marketplace supported by demand from both environmental mitigation and public incentives.
Thirty-eight top leaders in Washington and Oregon agriculture recently met in Vancouver, Washington, for an in-depth discussion of the challenges and opportunities in ecosystem markets. Such markets—which pay farmers for the environmental benefits they provide—promise immense opportunities for helping the environment and improving the profitability of agriculture. But there are challenges to making them work so that farmers and ranchers can participate. AFT’s “Conservation Markets Workshop and Listening Session for Agriculture” was held November 5th to engage the Northwest agriculture community in identifying these challenges. The resulting discussion paper contains many models for how these markets can work for farmers in the Pacific Northwest.
AFT Report for County Commission
What do increased water pollution, higher land costs, loss of wildlife habitat, more greenhouse gases from increased automobile traffic, less locally grown food, fewer farmers and less open space have in common? All are impacts on communities when local farms and farmland are lost.
AFT helped address this issue for Klickitat County Commission this fall by researching potential tools and models from around the country for protecting agricultural land, improving the environment and expanding local foods. The report Keeping Farmland Available for Klickitat County Agriculture has been provided to help the Commission ensure local food, strong communities and clean air and water for the future.
Klickitat County: A Closer Look
Klickitat County in Washington Sate is home to a wonderfully varied agricultural landscape. From wooded mountains with fertile river valleys and 45 inches of rainfall in the West to high pasture, dry land wheat, and as little as 10 inches of rainfall in the east, this county has it all. There are over 700 farms on over 600,000 acres of land which generate over $52 million in annual farm-gate value. This is a significant economic impact for this community of only 20,000 people.
Unfortunately, Klickitat County is also only about 1 ½ hours up the Columbia River from the rapidly growing urban center in Portland, OR and Vancouver, WA. It includes a key part of the renowned Columbia River Gorge renowned for its scenery and recreation. Unlike Oregon, right across the river, it is not subject to rigorous growth management. But it is a great place to live and to recreate, so recent years have seen an influx of recreation, retirement, and other development. And the impacts on local agriculture are dramatic – with growing environmental issues, tightening reigns on access to water, increasing land costs, a fragmenting landscape, and the predictable conflicts with nearby ill-informed non-farm landowners.
The loss of farmland to development and undermining of local agriculture is having dramatic impacts on local communities all across our region—increased water pollution, less access to water, increasing land costs, less wildlife habitat, more greenhouse gases from increased automobile traffic, less locally grown food, fewer farmers, less open space.
2008 Washington Policy
AFT's Don Stuart with Governor Christine Gregoire
On March 25th, 2008 Washington State passed SB 6805, an AFT supported bill that will contract a study of private farm and forest-based conservation markets and will support a pilot project to prove their feasibility. Ecosystem services markets issues addressed by the feasibility study will include:
- Identification and evaluation of successful models from other communities
- Determination of potential interest by farm and forest landowners in participating as environmental service suppliers
- Assessing the services farm and forest suppliers could potentially produce
- Identifying opportunities for using a farm and forest ecosystems services market to contribute to agricultural viability
SB 6805 will result in new ecosystem services markets for farm and forest landowners while also potentially improving the performance of existing environmental mitigation and restoration programs. AFT led the introduction and a broad farm-environmental coalition in support for the conservation markets bill.
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