Our Work in New England
Our New England office, based in Northampton, Massachusetts, works to protect farmland, encourage farming practices that lead to a healthy environment, and foster a resilient regional farm and food system.
New England ’s four million acres of farmland is just 10 percent of our land base, but integral to our environment, our economy and our public health. Yet sadly, 12 percent of the region’s prime farmland was developed in just the 25 year period from 1982 to 2007. Some states saw significantly higher losses: Rhode Island lost 22 percent of its farmland and Massachusetts lost 18 percent. From 2002-2007, more than 85,000 acres of New England ’s most productive farmland have disappeared to sprawling development.
What's HAPPENING NOW
Where is New England’s best farmland and what are the threats to it? How can state governments help reduce farmland loss? How can farmland be made more available and affordable to both established and beginning farmers? These and other questions were the subject of a recent regional convening hosted by American Farmland Trust and Land For Good in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The meeting brought together more than 80 federal and state agency staff, Extension personnel, foundation officers, and representatives of conservation and farm organizations. “We are very grateful to all six state Chief Agricultural Officers and six (USDA-NRCS) State Conservationists for their collaboration with us on this convening,” said Cris Coffin, American Farmland Trust’s New England Director. “It was a chance not just for information sharing, but to think strategically about ways we can work as a region to reduce farmland conversion, increase permanent protection, expand access and keep farmland in farming, especially in light of a changing climate.”
More information about the convening, including presentations and maps, coming soon.
The federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) has been an enormously important source of matching funds for state and local farmland protection efforts in New England, investing more than $200 million in permanent agricultural conservation easements around the region since 2002. Yet recent FRPP policy changes at USDA have confused and frustrated state farmland protection programs and their land trust partners, as has the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s initial roll-out of a certification process for experienced state and local farmland protection partners. “New England has some of the oldest and most respected state Purchase of Agriculture Conservation Easement (PACE) programs in the country—yet not a single program was certified,” said Cris Coffin, American Farmland Trust's New England Director.
These policy changes and certification roll-out have some of the region’s strongest FRPP advocates, including U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), U.S. Representative Joe Courtney (D-CT) and Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, seeking answers and solutions. Senator Leahy and Representative Courtney are championing language in the current Farm Bill reauthorization directing NRCS to revise the certification process for the new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program to give greater deference to experienced state and local FRPP partners. And Governor Malloy, who has raised concerns about FRPP directly with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, is now seeking other governors to join with him in asking USDA to address these issues. “We are extremely fortunate to have such strong allies in Congress and as Governors,” noted Coffin.
The transfer of farms to a new generation is one of the biggest challenges facing agriculture in the Northeast. American Farmland Trust and Land For Good are offering an exciting two-year training program for professionals working with farmers and farmland owners as they seek access to land and navigate the complexity of farm transfers. The Farmland Advisors program will offer participants from New York and New England the opportunity to join a network of agricultural and conservation professionals to learn about:
· Farm transfer and succession planning
· Financial, tax and legal issues in farm transfers
· Land conservation as a farm transfer strategy
· Farm linking and matching
· Farmland leasing and other tenure options
· Farmland restoration
· Farmland affordability options
Learn more about the Farmland Advisors program
All farmers and ranchers know preparing for the year ahead starts with looking back at the bright spots and challenges from the seasons before. At AFT, we’re proud that in 2012 we rallied farmers and citizens alike to advocate on behalf of protecting farm and ranch land. Our innovative projects helped family farmers pioneer sound farming practices, which help to preserve our land and water resources. We also laid the groundwork to keep farmers on the land by providing tools and resources that allow them to thrive.
We’re sharing accomplishments and inspiration from 2012 in the words of our expert staff.
It’s been an exciting year, with so much interest and energy around the region on building New England’s food system infrastructure and fostering economic development in agriculture. And with each of the New England states focused on planning for agriculture and the food system, it’s a great opportunity to think holistically about the region’s farmland base and what it will take not only to stem the loss of productive farmland, but to put additional land back into production to grow the region’s food production capacity.
Read more from New England Director Cris Coffin.
A 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 [PDF] 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.
New England’s 1,700 milk-producing farms anchor the region’s agricultural land base and economy. As New England strives to create a more resilient food system, grow profitable farm and food enterprises and retain its working farms and forests, new research from the New England Milkshed Assessment sheds light on the health and future of this keystone sector.
New England Milkshed Assessment
The Northeast is home to nearly 64 million people, with a population density five times the national average. According to a just-released Farm Bill Agenda for the Northeast [PDF], this urban influence has made federal conservation programs critically important in the region. The agenda includes four major priorities for the Conservation Title of the Farm Bill, including adequate conservation technical assistance; continued robust, mandatory funding for conservation programs focused on working farms and forests; appropriate conservation program flexibility to address state and local resource concerns and priorities; and continued funding for on-farm energy efficiency and renewable energy production. American Farmland Trust collaborated with the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) and other state and regional farm, food and conservation organizations on developing the Agenda’s conservation priorities.
Work Across The region
Understanding the farm bill reauthorization process is never easy, but this time around it will be more challenging than ever. American Farmland Trust, Wholesome Wave, Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group and New England Farmers Union hosted two webinars to help Northeast farm, food and conservation advocates better understand the 2012 Farm Bill reauthorization process.
Watch presentations on the Conservation Title and Enhancing Local and Regional Food Systems to learn what’s at stake for USDA programs that protect farmland, address environmental challenges, improve food access, and revitalize local and regional food systems in the Northeast.
A report finalized by the New England Governors’ Blue Ribbon Commission on Land Conservation [PDF] offers recommendations to keep the region’s farmland in farming. Recommendations include a New England Farm and Food Security Initiative to identify and address barriers and opportunities to increase production and consumption of New England-grown farm and food products, and protect the region’s agricultural lands. Commission members briefed the New England governors on the recommendations, and American Farmland Trust is working with the Commission and the six state Departments of Agriculture to move these valuable recommendations forward.
Cris Coffin, New England Director for American Farmland Trust, has worked with the Commission on Land Conservation and notes the importance of its recommendations:
“New England has great potential to improve its food and energy security, reduce its carbon footprint, and sustain its family farms by increasing production and consumption of regional food, farm and forest products. But there are a host of barriers—from lack of food processing and distribution capacity, high energy and other farm input costs, the continued loss of farmland, to a lack of access for many citizens to nutritious and affordable food. Eliminating some of these barriers will require multi-state initiatives or federal policy changes and investments, which is why the regional collaboration envisioned through the New England Farm and Food Security Initiative and the commission’s other four initiatives is so vital.”
American Farmland Trust will continue to work with the Commission on Land Conservation and the six state Departments of Agriculture to move the agricultural recommendations forward. Governor John Baldacci of Maine, who chairs the New England Governors Commission, has said of the commission’s report:
“This is the most ambitious land conservation effort that has ever been put forward for all New England. For more than a century, New England has been a national leader in maintaining and renewing the human benefits of land conservation. These carefully coordinated initiatives are timely and necessary if we are to pass these benefits along to future generations of New England citizens.”
New England’s dairy farms are the anchor tenants of the region’s agricultural land base, managing over 50% of the cropland in 5 of the region’s 6 states and stewarding thousands more acres of woodlands, wetlands and pasture. The region’s 2,100 dairy farms are vital to the region’s economy, generating more than $13,000 per cow annually in direct economic activity. Yet, these farms continue to struggle with milk prices that often do not cover their costs of production.
Working in partnership with Tufts University's Agriculture, Food and Environment program, we have begun a comprehensive regional supply chain analysis to map the flow of milk and other dairy products through the New England region, helping consumers understand where their milk is coming from and how they can support the region's diary farms and farmland. We also will identify new market opportunities for regional dairy producers such as schools, restaurants and institutions, farmers markets and community supported farms, convenience stores and bodegas, and USDA feeding programs, as well as new policy options to pursue through the New England Farm and Food Security Initiative.