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Farming on the Edge: Massachusetts Farmland in the Path of Development

 
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The Apple as Planet Earth Presentation
The Apple As Planet Earth

Do you know how much of the earth is suitable for farming? Watch the video and learn why protecting our farmland is so important.

 
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Every year, America loses 1.2 million acres of farmland - an area twice the size of Rhode Island - much of it our best and most productive farmland near where most Americans live. In Massachusetts and across the nation, AFT is a vital link between farmers, conservationists and policymakers, working to protect the best farmland , direct growth away from agricultural resources, provide healthy local food to all citizens, and help communities sustain local farms and farming.

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Agreement on APR Legislation Improves Chances For New Farmland Protection Funding in Massachusetts Environmental Bond

 

A recent agreement on legislative changes to the Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program (APR) has helped improve changes of passage of an Environmental Bond Bill with $30 million for the APR program. “Without this agreement, the APR funding was at significant risk,” explains American Farmland Trust New England Director Cris Coffin. “These legislative changes, which we expect will be added to the Environmental Bond Bill, are important improvements to the program.  They also enable Massachusetts Farm Bureau to support the Environmental Bond and APR funding.”

American Farmland Trust helped negotiate the agreement, which include giving the state Agricultural Lands Preservation Committee the authority to approve all program regulations and hear appeals from APR landowners who have been denied certificates of approvals or special permits. The language is likely to be added to the Environmental Bond as it moves through the House. American Farmland Trust applauds the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture for its inclusion in the bond of $30 million in APR funding and appreciates the role Senator Marc Pacheco and Representative Anne Gobi played in the legislative negotiations.  

 

New Report: New England Food Policy: Building a Sustainable Food System

A new report authored by American Farmland Trust, Conservation Law Foundation and Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group analyzes policies to strengthen and expand New England’s food system. The report, New England Food Policy: Building a Sustainable Food System, is intended to guide citizens, organizations, coalitions, agencies and policymakers in identifying supportive policies and areas where new policies may be needed to help expand New England’s  food production, strengthen its agricultural economy and food supply chains, and enhance multistate cooperation.

Click here for more information and to download the, New England Food Policy: Building a Sustainable Food System, report.

American Farmland Trust is hosting an introductory webinar about the report on May 14 at 12:00pm ET. Click here to register for the New England Policy webinar.

 

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.”

American Farmland Trust’s Forums Examine Ways to Address Land Access and Affordability

Farmer and son in free stall barnKeeping New England farmland in farming and ensuring its availability for the next generation of farmers is the focus of two upcoming American Farmland Trust forums. Later this month, American Farmland Trust's Working Lands Alliance and other Connecticut partners will hold a day-long conversation to address one of the biggest barriers for new and established farmers—access to affordable farmland. In November, American Farmland Trust will convene its 80 Farmland Advisors for a two-day immersion in the topic, exploring how advisors can work with farmers and farmland owners on farmland transfer and tenure options. “If we want land to stay in farming,” notes American Farmland Trust’s New England Director Cris Coffin, “we need multiple strategies and a better understanding of what will motivate farmland owners to sell or lease land to a next generation farmer. By sharing information about what works and what more is needed, we can build New England’s capacity to keep farmland in farming from one generation to the next.”

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.

New England Webinar and Listening Sessions on Food Safety Modernization Act

Farmers market spreadThe new federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) will significantly impact how food in New England and around the country is grown, handled and processed. Farmers, consumers and organizations that support farms and farmland conservation all have a stake in how FSMA is implemented. You can help make it a workable law that improves food safety and supports the type and scale of agriculture that is prevalent in New England.As part of American Farmland Trust’s Regional Policy Project, we recently collaborated with partners to host a webinar about the FSMA, in advance of three listening sessions that will take place in New England on August 19, 20 and 22. “Thanks to our region’s excellent Congressional delegation, we have a chance at these listening sessions to weigh in with our thoughts and concerns,” said American Farmland Trust's New England Director, Cris Coffin. “Let’s make the most of this opportunity.”

Massachusetts Lawmakers Consider Environmental Bond Bill

Purple cabbageAmerican Farmland Trust and its allies in the Commonwealth Conservation Coalition are urging Massachusetts lawmakers to authorize $13 million annually for the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Program over the next five years. This action would maintain funding for other vital agriculture programs in the next state Environmental Bond, including programs aimed at improving farm profitability, promoting environmental stewardship, and expanding institutional procurement of Massachusetts-grown food. Cris Coffin, AFT’s New England Director, notes that the version of the bill introduced by Governor Patrick's Administration has reduced funding for the APR Program over the past three years. Coffin encourages farm and food advocates to weigh in with both legislators and with the Governor’s office. “There’s a current backlog of more than 60 APR projects—projects involving landowners who want to protect their land but may not be in a position to wait several years until funding becomes available.”

New England Project Highlights Programs and Policies to Promote Farmland Access

Young farmer in fieldFinding affordable land to lease or to buy is one of the major challenges facing the next generation of farmers in New England. Two new reports produced by the Land Access Project—a regional project in which American Farmland Trust participated—offer recommendations on ways that states, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farm and conservation organizations, land trusts, and private investors can help to improve access to land for new and beginning farmers. The Farmland Access and Tenure Innovations report focuses on strategies to encourage public and private landowners to sell or lease their land to beginning farmers. The second report, Does the Option at Agricultural Value Protect Farmland for Beginning Farmers, analyzes a legal requirement—used by both the Massachusetts and Vermont farmland protection programs, as well as some land trusts—that farmland under conservation easement be sold at its agricultural value rather than market value. This would ensure the affordability of protected land for farmers, particularly beginning farmers. 

Regional Convening Considers New England’s Farmland Future  

Rows of crops on small New England farmLast month, in partnership with Land For Good and in collaboration with the six New England state Departments of Agriculture and state USDA-NRCS offices, American Farmland Trust convened 85 of the region’s farm and conservation leaders in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to discuss New England’s farmland future. Topics ranged from strengthening farmland protection tools, to expanding farmland access for new and established farmers, to improving farmland resiliency in the face of climate change. Participants explored opportunities for collective action and utilized a series of maps, produced in collaboration with the Massachusetts USDA-NRCS, to explore trends in farmland protection, development and conservation. “The convening helped identify some important opportunities and challenges around the region,” said Cris Coffin, American Farmland Trust’s New England Director. “We hope these materials and findings will help inform farmland-related work around the region and spur new projects and collective action.” 

Farmland Advisors Spring into Action in the Northeast

Farmland-Advisors.jpgAmerican Farmland Trust and Land for Good’s Farmland Advisors program is educating agriculture service providers to help the next generation of farmers access land and help farm families facilitate the transfer to the next generation. Farmland Advisors started in February with a webinar for the program’s 80 participants, from New York and New England. The program is funded by a grant from the Northeast SARE Professional Development Program and support from a Farm Credit Northeast AgEnhancment grant. Participants represent land trusts, beginning farmer organizations, extension offices, lending institutions and local and state agencies.

 

Farmland Advisors Training Program Now Accepting Applications in Northeast

Allen Family on farm in Easton, New YorkThe transfer of farms to a new generation is one of the biggest challenges facing agriculture in New York and New England.  Farmland Advisors is a training program to help agriculture and conservation professionals become an effective resource in helping farmers and farmland owners as they seek access to land and navigate the complexity of farm transfers. “Participants will learn about everything from farm succession planning to farm linking, lease options and land conservation as a farm transfer strategy,” said Diane Held, Senior New York Field Manager for American Farmland Trust. “Land access and availability are increasingly impacting farms and food systems in the region,” added New England Director Cris Coffin, “Working with professionals across the Northeast will help to meet these challenges at the state level.”  Applications are now being accepted. The deadline to apply is October 31.

Regional Project Seeks to Foster Supportive Public Policy Environment

farmer-and-carrott-picking.pngA vibrant and viable food system in New England requires a supportive public policy environment. For this reason, American Farmland Trust is teaming up with the Conservation Law Foundation and the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group to identify the policy levers that will support improved farm profitability, expanded food production and the agricultural infrastructure needed to improve regional food resiliency. Drawing upon expertise and experience of leaders and practitioners across New England, this two-year project will focus on federal, state and regional policy arenas, analyzing policy barriers and gaps in five key areas and recommending where change is most needed, at what level and scale, and what kinds of advocacy might be most effective.

Survey Explores Landowner Attitudes About MA Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program

Bucket of Massachusetts BlueberriesTo help determine what land is and is not being protected through the Massachusetts Agricultural Preservation Restriction program, we teamed up with the Massachusetts Farm Bureau to survey Farm Bureau members. More than 90% of the respondents had not applied for the program in the past five years. Land ineligibility; concern over program changes or possible constraints on the land once enrolled; and a sense that the program is unable to pay what the restriction is worth were among the top reasons farmers shied away from the farmland preservation program. These and other research findings will be presented to the state Agricultural Lands Preservation Committee in late November.

x Find More on MA's APR Program at our MA Farmland Protection Tools page.

Massachusetts Policy Update

Massachusetts’ Community Preservation Act Needs a Boost 

Massachusetts CabbageWe recently joined legislators and other organizations to testify in support of changes to the Community Preservation Act, the Commonwealth’s program that supports community-level land protection, affordable housing and historic preservation efforts. The proposed legislation would ensure that participating communities receive at least 75 percent of what they raise locally in state matching funds. The Community Preservation Act has been a critical source of supplemental funding for farmland protection projects in Massachusetts by helping communities raise the money needed to protect more than 38 farmland parcels through the state’s Agricultural Preservation Restriction program. 

More Massachussetts Policy Update:

FOcus on Massachusetts

Hannaford Supermarkets Joins New England’s “Keep Local Farms” Dairy Initiative

Keep Local FarmsA Northeast grocery chain has become the first retailer to join forces with the New England Dairy Promotion Board and New England Family Dairy Farms Cooperative to bring the concept of “fair trade” milk to consumers. Hannaford's 71 stores will promote the benefits of local dairy farms—including stewardship of the region’s farmland—and offer shoppers an opportunity to directly support dairy farmers through the “Keep Local Farms” dairy campaign. Cris Coffin, American Farmland Trust’s New England Director, is excited by the Hannaford announcement: “Educating shoppers about the value of our region’s dairy farmers will hopefully encourage them to donate to the campaign and help farmers receive a better price for their milk.”  

More Focus on Massachusetts:

 

Contact Us

New England Field Office

Cris Coffin, New England States Director
1 Short Street, Suite 2
Northampton, MA 01060-3952
(p)413-586-9330 ext. 29
(f)413-586-9332
ccoffin@farmland.org

 
American Farmland Trust