Category Archives: farm bill

A Time to Protect the Land: New Paths to Preservation

This is the second in a series of five stories outlining American Farmland Trust’s vision for the 2012 Farm Bill. For more information on our recommendations and positions, please visit www.farmbillfacts.org.


More than 30 years ago, American Farmland Trust was founded by a group of farmers and citizens concerned about the rapid loss of farmland to development. Since then, we have worked as a national leader on the issue, helping to drive farmland protection efforts  around the country with countless state and local partners. However, even as this movement has spread,  so have the forces of farmland destruction.

The 2012 Farm Bill presents an opportunity to set the course for the next 30 years. With increasing demands on U.S. agriculture to produce food, fiber, energy and eco-services, the need to protect the nation’s irreplaceable farmland resources is more critical than ever. At the same time, budget constraints will challenge the role of the federal government in protecting farmland in the future.

Working Lands Easement Programs
Land Retirement Programs

Currently, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has jurisdiction over five easement programs: two focused on working agricultural lands and the remainder on retiring environmentally sensitive land and taking it out of production. The number of similar programs has caused confusion in farm country and concern in the nation’s capital, eliciting calls for consolidation. American Farmland Trust agrees. If done right, consolidation provides an opportunity to create more focused and results-oriented easement programs while maintaining the critical elements that make these programs successful.

A Common Purpose, Permanence, and Structure

The Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program and Grassland Reserve Program share common objectives: keep agricultural land in production and contribute to local economies. Combining them under a Working Lands Easement Program will create a stronger program without sacrificing effectiveness. The last farm bill already brought the two programs closer together, making Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program more range land friendly and instituting the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program model of local partnerships as an option in Grassland Reserve Program, so that the program no longer operates solely through USDA. That way federal funding is leveraged with other funds through local partners to get a bigger bang for the buck. In fact, through 2010, Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program projects have matched more than $1.80 in non-federal funds for every federal dollar invested.

New England farm in fogThe programs that take environmentally fragile land out of production—Wetlands Reserve Program, Emergency Watershed Program and Healthy Forests Reserve Program—also can be merged. A consolidated Land Retirement and Restoration Program would continue to offer protection for previously farmed wetlands; forest lands that support biodiversity and critical wildlife habitat; and threatened farmed floodplains. By remaining separate from the Working Lands Easement Program, this new program would be able to maintain the restrictive easement terms that are crucial when retiring fragile land but would cripple efforts to protect working lands.

Additionally, we must continue to strengthen the farm and ranch land protection movement through innovative new programs. We propose instituting a new Debt for Working Lands Easement program, a restructuring option for farm-owner loans through Farm Service Agency and secured by real estate. This program would retire debt on agriculturally productive land in return for permanent conservation easements, protecting the land and allowing it to continue being used for agricultural production. This tool would both further farmland protection and provide an option to help farmers and ranchers eliminate debt and remain in farming.

The threats to America’s farm and food resources are real. Through farm and ranch land conservation on both working and retired land, we can protect the land base we need to grow food while keeping the land vibrant and healthy into the future. The 2012 Farm Bill is instrumental in making land conservation more effective. American Farmland Trust’s vision of new programs and tools—the Working Lands Easement Program, the Land Retirement and Restoration Program and Debt for Working Lands Easement—can strengthen the farm and ranch land protection movement and truly help farmers, ranchers and communities meet their conservation needs.


About the author: One of the nation’s leading experts in Farmland Protection, Bob Wagner celebrated his 25th year at American Farmland Trust in 2010 and has worked in the field of farmland protection since 1981. In his current position, Wagner helps states and local communities nationwide build support for and create policies to protect agricultural land.

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Farm and Food News 11/18/11

Farm bill progress under wraps

Leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have signaled that they are near complete on a proposed five-year plan for farm and food policy to be added to deficit-reduction recommendations due November 23. If this date is not met then the farm bill moves onto sequestration, meaning automatic reductions will be made. Have more farm bill questions? Visit www.farmbillfacts.org.

Young farmers in search of land and funds

A report from the National Young Farmers’ Coalition details the biggest challenges faced by young and beginning farmers based on a survey of 1,300 individuals.

An increasing number of programs exist for educating beginning farmers and ranchers, but access to loans and land is often difficult, and obstacles remain in continuing to attract a younger generation to farming.

Local food purchasing turns out to be a huge marketplace

According to a new study from USDA, consumer preference for “local” produce  is paying off for some farmers, at the tune of $4.8 billion per year in total revenue. These sales are expected to continue to increase.

A push for wider access to fresh food

Baltimore is pushing for SNAP benefits to be accepted widely at farmers markets so that users have access to healthy food. The goal is to benefit Maryland farmers with an increase in revenue and to provide more Baltimoreans with healthy food alternatives.

Discussion on the table

While the farm-to-table movement is in full swing, many chefs are still finding it extremely difficult to source food completely locally.

Want to preserve your farmland?

If you are interested in learning about how to preserve your farmland, Canterbury Community Center in Connecticut is holding a free workshop to enhance your knowledge. It will be held on November 29 from 6:30 to 9 pm.

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Farm and Food News 11/11/11

A place where veterans and nature connect

A restored ranch in Washington state is providing a retreat for nature-loving veterans with disabilities. Thanks to many grants and funding opportunities, including the Wetlands Reserve Program, the protected land is safeguarding wildlife habitat while also providing a place for veterans to enjoy the outdoors.

Addressing farmland loss in the Pacific Northwest

Washington’s Puget Sound region, like many other parts of the country, continues to face farmland loss due to development pressures. The work of organizations, like PCC Farmland Trust, made possible through farm bill programs, is helping to protect farms and farmland in the region.

Trajectory of farm bill negotiations remains unknown

Federal farm policy helps shape what is grown; where, when and how the land is farmed; and who benefits from this production. The 2012 Farm Bill process is being greatly impacted by the federal budget deficit reduction negotiations, the results of which have yet to be revealed.

Peanuts and pecans go up in price

When you are reaching for pecans or peanut butter to make your favorite holiday dessert, you may notice a sharp increase in price. Peanut growers in Georgia and Texas, and pecan farmers across the Southeast, have experienced a severe drought this past summer. However, Virginia peanut farmers are experiencing a robust harvest this year.

Georgia schools to test farm-to-school program

Three counties in Georgia have enlisted their school systems to serve a minimum of 75 percent Georgia-grown food to their students for a full week. The program will run in the spring and will include guest chef and farmer presentations, while seeking to increase healthy eating habits for elementary school students.

Finding community in a farm and food hub

In Worcester, Pennsylvania, farm and food advocates are working to create a food hub through the Longview Center for Agriculture. The organization’s model—which is finding ways to connect members of the community to the land—offers farmers the opportunity to produce food on small plots of land.

Central New York meetings to address agriculture plans

Farmland protection plans are the topic of discussion at a series of upcoming meetings in central New York. The towns of Nelson, Cazenovia and Lincoln are working together to prepare Agriculture & Farmland Protection Plans, guided by steering committees of local farmers, officials and other landowners.

Study finds water quality in Chesapeake Bay is improving

A new study released from Johns Hopkins University study “efforts to reduce the flow of fertilizers, animal waste and other pollutants” is benefitting the health of the Bay.

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Farm and Food News 11/4/11

Policy Changes Proposed for Next Farm Bill

Proposals for the next farm bill are rolling out across the country. This week, American Farmland Trust released our recommendations for the 2012 Farm Bill. Additionally, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) premiered his proposal for the next farm bill.

Maine Woman Returns Home to Save Farm

At 48 years old, Penny Jordan returned to her family’s farm in Maine, diversifying farm products and projects. She is not alone among the next generation of farmers seeking to address the projected 400,000 acres slated to change hands in the state over the next decade. Maine Farmland Trust recently released a guide to help individuals and communities address the concerns over land transition.

New Resource for Fresh New England Produce

Students at Colby College in Maine have created a new resource for getting local fresh produce from within the New England area. Their program is based entirely online.

Drought Conditions Continue to Hit the Southwest

Farmers and ranchers in the American Southwest are finding new ways to nourish their animals and keep their crops alive under worsening drought conditions. Where in some cases, a hay shortage is the biggest challenge, others are working tirelessly to bring in water.

National Conservation Survey Begins

The 2011 National Resources Inventory conservation Effects Assessment Project survey is underway through the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. The program will be visiting farmers throughout the country from November 2011 to February 2012, seeking to capture the effectiveness of on-farm projects and programs working to protect water, air, and soil quality, including work in the Chesapeake Bay. . In fact, a recent study released by The Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science showed that efforts to reduce runoff from agriculture into the Chesapeake Bay appear to be boosting the Bay’s health.

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Farm and Food News 10/28/11

Farm And Food NewsCrafting a smarter farm policy

Three agricultural leaders—Jon Scholl, President of American Farmland Trust; Garry Neimeyer, President of the National Corn Growers Association; and Chandler Goule, Vice President of Government Relations for the National Farmers Union—propose that the current crop insurance program and general farm policy initiatives should be revamped “to craft a smarter farm policy for America that will be responsible to taxpayers and effective in helping farms and ranches remain viable and productive.”

Global food sovereignty

National Food Day was celebrated this past Monday, October 24th for the first time. It brought together people across the nation to recognize healthy, affordable, and sustainable food. Farmers around the world are making efforts to provide for their communities, and this special day marks another way to underscore the importance of farm and ranch land to our food systems.

Vermont seeks aid for storm damage

An estimated more than 20,000 acres were damaged in Vermont due to Tropical Storm Irene. Representative Welch (D-VT) has suggested three different bills to aid in the restoration and repair of the land damaged and money lost by farmers.

New York acquires additional funding for farmland damage

In New York, there has been another successful awarding of federal funds to farms impacted by the intense weather patterns earlier this year. The funding will go toward emergency conservation and watershed programs. In addition, farmers impacted by the floods have found unique ways to raise money for their relief efforts.

Farmland protection in West Virginia

West Virginians interested in preserving agricultural land can now apply for a farmland protection grant. The funding goes toward the purchasing of conservation easements that limit non-agricultural use of the land. The deadline to apply is November 15th.

Iowa hosts Agriculture for Life conference

Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, is hosting a day-long conference on November 3rd called “Agriculture for Life: Cultivating Diversity in Iowa Fields and Food Systems.” A panel of speakers will include a nutrition director, a previous Kraft Food brand manager and various other Iowans.

New geocodes provide easy farmers market access

The USDA just announced its Excel spreadsheet publication of street addresses and geocodes for over 6,200 farmers markets in the United States. Now you can access your favorite markets with the touch of a cell phone key.

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Farm and Food News 10/21/11

Direct subsidies in the farm bill

On Thursday night, the Senate passed an amendment proposed by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) to prohibit subsidy payments to farmers with an average annual income exceeding $1 million. Though only proposed for the short-term, this decision highlights the continued discussion on what form subsidies may take in the next farm bill. To help people understand the different proposals, we recently engaged noted Ohio State University agricultural economist Dr. Carl Zulauf to analyze the features of the leading safety net proposals.

Farmland transformed into thriving natural sanctuary

A Minnesota farm couple converted their old plowed land into a grass-fed cow “oasis” while preserving native trees, shrubs and species. Their revised landscape also helps reduce soil erosion and water pollution, which in turn brings additional species to their property

Inmate-farmer relationships form

The Idaho potato harvest got a little extra help this year from the state’s Department of Correction. Inmates helped farmers out across the country, providing the farmers with greatly needed support and the inmates with a task in hand.

Kentucky increases local food access

In conjunction with the University of Kentucky and the Governors Office of Agriculture, a new online resource was created for Kentuckians to have easier access to locally produced food. The page also includes nutritional, economical and environmental resources.

Vacation on the Farm

Farms opening their doors to overnight guests are a rising trend across the United States right now, and one that has been popular in Europe for decades. They offer a very realistic look at farm life and one that you can often participate in, while also enjoying the countryside.

New England gains protected farmland

Warren, Maine gained two additions to their “Forever Farms” preservation program this past week: Hatchet Cove Farm and Oyster River Farm. Across the state line in Concord, New Hampshire, city council approved an easement for a 72-acre farm that will prevent future subdivisions and development from the property.

Preserve North Carolina Farmland

Want a grant to protect farmland in North Carolina? You are in luck! The N.C. Agriculture Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund are currently accepting grant applications up until December 15.

Food Day, October 24

To celebrate Food Day, on Monday, October 24, join NYU for a panel discussion of beginning farmers who live and work in New York state. If you are in the Washington, D.C., area, stop by the National Archives for their Food Day Open House. We will be there along with the USDA and ThinkFood Group.

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Farm and Food News 10/14/11

Making the farm-to-table connection through conservation

Farm-to-table meets farm bill conservation in Washington state during our Dine Out for FarmsTM week. The Mark in Olympia, Washington, is featuring steak from Colvin Ranch of Thurston County, one of the oldest, family-owned ranches in the Evergreen State. Fred Colvin was the first landowner in the state of Washington to enroll his ranchland in the Grassland Reserve Program, a farm bill conservation program that helps to safeguard the environment by expanding wildlife habitat.

Going a step further to bring fresh produce to the community

The food pantry in Greenfield, Massachusetts, has a lot more being donated than packaged goods and leftover produce. A retired farmer has planted a half acre of produce, including tomatoes, winter and summer squash, and green peppers, that go directly to the pantry. He estimates that this year’s total donation will come to about 10,000 pounds of produce.

Vermont to increase instate food consumption and production

In an effort to increase farming and farm-related jobs in Vermont, the state is increasing its previously formed Farm to Plate Initiative. Some of the goals include doubling the amount of locally produced food consumed in state, and increasing economic development within the farm and food community.

Iowa struggles to feed its farm-rich state

You might think of Iowa as being a state filled with farmland. However, one in eight Iowans lack the resources to acquire nutritious meals. Food bank usage across the state has gone up 25-30 percent since 2008, with no improvement in sight.

Cranberries galore!

The Massachusetts cranberry crop looks like it may be a record harvest this year. To celebrate, plan a visit to a bog or try this delicious cranberry recipe using your local goods!

Farmland continues to be preserved nationwide

Harford County, Maryland, announced this week that nine farms, totaling 1,200 acres, have joined their agricultural preservation program. The state of Pennsylvania also announced the preservation of 1,788 acres of farmland this week. In Washington, 400 acres were preserved in Monroe County under long-term protection from development.

Have a great family farm photograph?

The Community Alliance for Family Farmers, based out of Davis, California, is hosting a photography contest. The theme is family farming and local food, so go capture your best images and submit them by October 24.

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Farm and Food News 9/30/11

Coalition announces 2012 Farm Bill conservation priorities

Policy and advocacy groups rallied Congress this week to put forth their vision for conservation funding in the next farm bill.

Farm bill educations

Did you know that the original farm bill was created as a temporary solution to help farmers during the Great Depression? The farm bill has evolved over time to include the disaster assistance, conservation and nutrition all under the same budget. Want to learn more about farm and food policy in the United States? Take our short quiz.

Flooded farmers look for new ways to stay in business

With flood damage still affecting farmland in the Northeast, some farmers have taken to other means to secure income. From fundraising fall fests on the farm to using websites to promote and sell unused (but still good) chicken feed, these farmers are reaching new levels of creativity.

Farmland preservation is on a roll in New York

New York state is experiencing a wealth of farmland protection activity. Dutchess and Columbia counties will be permanently preserving almost 700 acres of working farmland, thanks to funding from various sources. A 70-year old family-run farm in Westchester County has also received a farmland protection grant from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Virginia is for….locavores?

Charlottesville, Virginia, is making a name for itself as more than just the home of the University of Virginia. In fact, this city was called “locavore capital of the world” by Forbes magazine. With activities taking place across the state, from food festivals to extensive farm volunteer and donation programs, it looks like Virginia is taking the local food lead.

Visions of apple trees dancing in your head

Always wanted to own a neighborhood fruit orchard? Now could be your chance to have those dreams come true! The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation is currently accepting applications nationwide from people looking to start their own community orchards.

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Farm and Food News 9/23/11

Merced farmers sell land to preserve agriculture

The Central Valley Farmland Trust recently secured another 211 acres of protected farmland in California. The protection of 12,500 total acres in the valley is due in part to federal funds from the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program and through state support.

Cultivating community

In Denton County, Texas, rising interest in local food has brought consumers and farmers together through community supported agriculture (CSA).  Some of the CSA partners include restaurants and even a music venue.

The Farm Bill course at NYU

Farm and food policies are taking center stage in the Big Apple with a new course on the farm bill offered this fall at New York University. Marion Nestle is leading the course, which will cover nutrition, public health, environmental studies and the law.

Ingredients film awakens students to better eating

A new documentary, Ingredients, highlights local farms and food and the benefits of seasonal eating. The film points to the eating local trend as one that increases interest in farming.

See preserved farms on Scenic Hudson cycling tour

Scenic Hudson is providing a unique way to enjoy a fall weekend by offering its third annual Farmland Cycling Tour in New York’s Hudson Valley. The tour offers four options to see farms protected by conservation easements.

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How I Got Into Conservation: A Lifelong Journey

Note: John Stierna recently received the prestigious Norman A. Berg Conservation Legacy Award, given by the National Capital Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS) to individuals who have made outstanding contributions in advocating the conservation of soil, water and related natural resources, and whose service and accomplishments have made widely recognized contributions to the development of leading edge technologies that serve conservation at any geographic area, while working in the Washington, D.C., area.

Minnesota Farmstead 1995

Minnesota Farmstead 1995

As a boy, I always loved my family’s farm: the outdoors, the fields of hay and oats, the woods, and the gentle stream that flowed across the farm and emptied into Grave Lake in Minnesota’s Itasca County. The farm work, while strenuous, was still fun to a lad in his teens. We were fortunate. We never had the dust storms they had out in the west. Nor did we have very much visible sheet or rill erosion since many fields were planted to alfalfa or clover. Even the oats or wheat helped provide ground cover after sprouting—thus reducing the impact of rain. However, the manure from our dairy cattle clearly provided a risk of runoff that could have adverse effects on the stream and the lake. I started to get the feeling that we could do something more to protect the stream and lake, but I also felt that any effect from our one farm would be minimal since few other working farms were in our immediate area.

John with Oliver 1995

John Stierna (left) with Uncle Oilver Juntunen (right) 1995

After college and graduate school, I became engaged in private sector research and then water policy for the National Water Commission – work that me closer to policy aspects of both water quality and water quantity. When I joined the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly the Soil Conservation Service) I quickly realized that the collective impact of millions of farms on the environment would be substantial over the longer term, yet any adoption of conservation practices would be on a much more localized basis—farm by farm. A real need existed to have tools to influence private landusers to adopt measures that could protect the land and waters on site and those beyond the farm boundaries. The economic evaluations often showed the need for some incentives to offset costs to help producers install suitable conservation systems.

Over the years, I was able to become more and more engaged in policy analysis that has helped bring forward some of the conservation policies and programs to make that happen. From early work on the Resources Conservation Act activity when Norm Berg was Chief of the old SCS, to later work on the Conservation Reserve Program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and the Conservation Security Program and the conservation title of several Farm Bills— these efforts all added to the suite of programs that can assist farmers and ranchers in addressing resource concerns on their farms and better protect the landscape.

Wow. This was a far cry different than the ideas I had as a lad on the farm. But sometimes it takes many years to evolve thought and concerns into workable policies and programs. Persistence over time is something that both Norm Berg and I have shared during our careers. Norm, who played a critical role in the beginning of agricultural conservation in the United States, was a committed conservationist throughout his life. I feel honored to have worked with such a distinguished professional as Norm.


John StiernaAbout the Author: Stierna has more than 45 years of experience in natural resources and agriculture as an economist and policy analyst in both the public and private sectors. He has provided significant leadership for economic analysis, policy formation and legislative analysis during his career with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Washington, D.C., and he now serves as a natural resource policy consultant for American Farmland Trust

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