Washington D.C., January 8, 2013 — Vanessa Johnson has spent the last two and a half years of her career at the Essex County Greenbelt Association in Massachusetts helping to protect the region's natural areas and farms. Now, she is learning about new ways to help farmers lease and buy farmland as a way to stop the loss of farmland and support the next generation of farmers.
"Increasingly we need more creative and diverse farm preservation methods which require a deeper understanding of the particular issues facing farmers," Johnson said.
Johnson is one of eighty agricultural professionals from across New England and New York who were selected to participate in Farmland Advisors, a new training program on farm transfer and farmland access options. Participants include Cooperative Extension educators, land trust staff, agricultural service providers and other professionals working with farmers and farmland owners.
With nearly 25 percent of the farmland in New York and New England owned by farmers aged 65 and older, ensuring that farmland stays in farming as it transfers ownership is critical. The Farmland Advisors program will address this challenge through a series of progressive learning and networking opportunities, including webinars, a regional conference, and peer-to-peer exchanges about farmland and farm transfer issues.
"We have a graying farm population," said American Farmland Trust New York State Director David Haight. "For many aging farmers, either they must sell the farm to have funds for retirement or the farm is already in such a state of financial distress that their children might not want to take it on. The point of transition is where we lose a lot of farms," he said.
"Access to affordable farmland is one of the biggest hurdles farmers face in this region, whether they are young farmers just getting into the business or established farmers looking to maintain or expand their operation," said American Farmland Trust New England Director Cris Coffin. "To address this hurdle, we want to train organizations, agencies and businesses that work closely with farmers or, as importantly, with non-farmers who own farmland, about ways to foster the sale or lease of farmland to farmers, and to provide opportunities to learn from each other about what works."
The two-year Farmland Advisors training program will be led by American Farmland Trust and Land For Good. Funding is provided by the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Professional Development Program with additional support from the Farm Credit Northeast AgEnhancement Program. Topics to be covered during the training include building relationships with landowners; leases; conservation easements; family and personal issues in estate planning; and tax and financial considerations in farm transfers.
"This training offers a unique opportunity to gain valuable knowledge that will result in more New York State farmland remaining in active agriculture," said Sonia Janiszewski, Farm to Market Manager for the Watershed Agricultural Council, another Farmland Advisors participant. "We are currently working with beginning farmers and landowners. Our ability to turn these relationships into land-linking successes can only increase through this training."
Development of the Farmland Advisors program will be guided by a steering committee comprised of representatives from American Farmland Trust, Land For Good, New World Foundation, Northeast Beginning Farmer Project, Cornell Small Farms Program, New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, GrowNYC, University of Connecticut Extension, Maine Farmland Trust, Peconic Land Trust New York FarmNet/FarmLink, and University of Vermont's Center for Sustainable Agriculture.
Although the Farmland Advisors program is at capacity for 2013-14, organizers have begun seeking funding for future rounds of training. For more information, visithttp://www.farmland.org/farmlandadvisors or contact Diane Held at firstname.lastname@example.org
American Farmland Trust is the only national conservation organization dedicated to protecting farmland, promoting sound farming practices and keeping farmers on the land. Since 1980 American Farmland Trust has helped to permanently protect more than five million acres of farm and ranch land. Learn more at www.farmland.org.