Category Archives: Farmland Protection

Spreading the No Farms No Food® Message in New York: An Interview with David Haight, New York Director, American Farmland Trust

What brought you to American Farmland Trust and what has kept you here for 13 years?

New York farmer walking through field with sonsI grew up in a very rural part of Upstate New York in a community that was dominated by dairy farms and apple trees. What I always appreciated growing up was the importance of helping to protect the natural environment but also to do it in a way that would allow people to make a living from the land. I saw it first-hand in the work that my neighbors were doing. American Farmland Trust is a national leader in finding ways of protecting the land but also supporting the people that are making their living from that land. So AFT was a natural fit.

Part of the reason I am still here is the people. I very much enjoy the people that have worked for American Farmland Trust. The commitment they have for the mission of this organization is very deep. We also work with some tremendous partners here in New York and we have the opportunity to see people that are really having an impact on the lives of a lot of New Yorkers.

Every day is a little different. No two days are the same and I think there are incredible challenges here and that makes coming to work fun.

What was one of the greatest accomplishments in for American Farmland Trust in New York in 2012?

I think it was a pivot year for AFT and our work in New York. Let’s face it, the last four years have been really, really tough. A lot of the public funding sources that we rely on for our work have been decimated. I think that in 2012 we saw that perhaps we are starting to rebuild some of the things that have been hurt so deeply. For example, our state farmland protection program got a boost in funding in 2012, up to $12 million. That program permanently protected 20 farms in 2011-2012. Those are 20 farm families and it is 6,000 acres of farmland that is now going to be permanently protected in this state.

We also really are at the earliest stages in, I think, some of the most exciting projects we’ve had here at AFT in a long time. Diane Held’s work with the New Generation Farmer initiative in helping new farmers find land in helping the senior generation transfer their farms successfully, I think the work is phenomenal. The Farms to Institutions in New York State initiative has just tremendous potential for AFT. I’m very excited about some of the work that Laura TenEyck is doing with an engagement campaign and hopefully in 2013 we’re going to take significant steps forward in getting more New Yorkers personally involved in helping stop the loss of farmland. I see the potential being very bright for AFT and our work in 2013.

Could you share an inspiring or memorable moment from the No Farms No Food Rally and Lobby Day?

I have the mental image of our Lieutenant Governor [Robert Duffy] joining us, talking about Governor Cuomo’s commitment to food and agriculture as an economic development priority. He was the mayor of the city of Rochester when American Farmland Trust gave Rochester the America’s Favorite Farmers Market award. He has seen personally how agriculture has such economic development potential in New York and how that can mean new jobs and new opportunities. He spoke very eloquently about that.

So did Robert Morgantheau who was our keynote speaker and a former Manhattan district attorney. It was a very heartening thing to see Mr. Morgantheau there with his son Josh, who is now managing their family farm in the Hudson Valley, pointing to the connection that farms have to our history, talking about Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill visiting their farm. But then he quickly moved into how their farm is helping to bring fresh produce into different communities in Brooklyn and Manhattan and the new CSA that they have. This connection with our history and our legacy in the Hudson Valley but also a lot of the interest in better diet and public health and some of the other connections we have here in New York. Those two people saying some of the things that they did really stood out for me. Laurie what comes to your mind when you think back?

Is there anyone that has inspired the way you thought about a challenge or approach with your land transition and next generation farmer work in New York?

We held two next generation farmer forums here in New York, one in Hyde Park last fall and one out in east Aurora. Matt Schober (Cool Whisper Farm) spoke, a farmer from Columbia County who was dealing with a farm transfer problem and wanted to get into grass-fed beef. The family had a small dairy farm in the Hudson Valley. His dad wanted to bring him back home to the family farm but he couldn’t afford to just gift the farm to his one son that wanted to come home. He didn’t feel it was fair. And the son was grappling with, “How do we make this work?”

For me, Matt just crystalized so much of the challenge for that senior generation, for his dad, but then also for him, as somebody that wanted to continue this family farm but was just struggling with the same sets of issues. Even though he grew up on a farm, he had gone off to school and he knew agriculture. It wasn’t a new experience for him but the challenges were so real. We need to be talking about both sides of the story. I think sometimes you get caught up in the young person that’s getting into agriculture. I think that’s a compelling story but we can’t forget the other side of the equation.

What are the most important steps moving forward in 2013 for your work in New York?

There are a few things that we’re going to be rolling forward with in 2013. We have one of our biggest water quality projects on eastern Long Island. We started to work with 10 farmers in helping them reduce their use of fertilizer to help protect Long Island Sound. I think we’re poised in 2013 to really ramp that up a notch and expand the number of farmers we work with and start looking at other types of crops that farmers are growing.

Our plans are to launch in 2013 this Greater Hudson Valley FarmLink network which will be a combination of a website, a series of training programs, and a network of supporting match facilitators to connect people that are looking for farms and have farmland available. So that is, I think, a very exciting program for 2013.


About the Author: David Haight is New York Director of American Farmland Trust and aids state and federal legislators as they work on agricultural and land conservation legislation. He has helped coordinate projects that have permanently protected more than 4,000 acres of New York farmland.

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Advocating for Farmland Forever in the Pacific Northwest: An Interview with Dennis Canty, Pacific Northwest Director, American Farmland Trust

What brought you to at American Farmland Trust and has kept you engaged during your two years here?

I’ve actually known about the organization since the early 1980’s and I’ve had a pretty strong interest in farmland preservation and rural conservation issues since then. I first got to know AFT when I was in graduate school and since 2003 had a really good opportunity to work with my predecessor, Don Stuart, who is just a great guy. He knows everybody and pretty much everything about farmland preservation out here. And so I was really inspired by Don’s leadership and interested in trying to continue his work out here.

Over the past year, what were some of the greatest accomplishments for AFT work in the Pacific Northwest?

Back in February, we released a report on farmland preservation programs around Puget Sound that is a comparative scorecard of how county governments are doing on farmland preservation. As part of that, it identified a few of the counties (three of the 12) that are really doing excellent work in terms of land use planning and purchase and transfer of development rights. We recognized those three with awards this spring and that was very well-received by the counties. One of the best things about the project is that, right after we released the report on the results, we had a couple of counties call up and say, “hey, how do we improve our score?” which is just the kind of thing that we like to hear. Right now we are working actively with a couple of counties to improve their land use planning related to agriculture. It’s exactly the kind of impact that we were hoping to have.

Mid-summer we revived Pioneers in Conservation, which offers small grants to farmers to do conservation work on their farms. Out here the focus is mostly on salmon recovery. People are doing is riparian restoration, but it also has tremendous water quality benefits. AFT had a breakthrough moment in the Snoqualmie Valley, just east of Seattle, where we came in with a very, very small pot of money, $35,000, but had the flexibility to allocate it to conservation projects that wouldn’t have been funded through other sources. As a consequence we were able to leverage a lot of funding both from nonprofit organizations and from NRCS. In the process we went from a $35,000 program to a program that’s now funded at about $400,000. And we’ll be doing riparian restoration on more than three miles of critical salmon reaches and farm communities out there. So that’s a pretty big deal. It’s also been called out by USDA out here as a great example of the kind of work that they want to see done around Washington State, particularly in the Puget Sound basin. So it has been a real hit.

Then I guess the last thing that I want to discuss is the Farmland Forever campaign. We have a really significant problem with farmland loss here in the Puget Sound region. We’ve lost about 60 percent of our farmland here since 1950, and of course this is near and dear to our mission as an organization. One of the things I’ve been interested in doing since I got here is to try to develop a strong campaign for farmland preservation in the Puget Sound region, particularly where the rates of loss have been high. We actually have a pretty significant grant from an organization called the Washington Women’s Foundation and we were the only grantee in their environmental category this year. We hope that this campaign is going to result in the protection of more than 100,000 acres of additional farmland here in the region.

What will be an important step in 2013 for the Farmland Forever campaign?

What I think that we’re finding in ramping up the Farmland Forever campaign is that there are a tremendous number of organizations that have an interest in farmland preservation but for whom this is not their primary focus. We need to develop a workable coalition among all those organizations. It’s quite an interesting mix of both agricultural and environmental organizations. Out here people do appreciate the role of farmers in preserving water quality and restoring habitat so there is a pretty strong appreciation for farmland preservation among the environmental community.

Can you think of a champion of farmland that has either inspired some of your work or changed the way you thought about approaching the challenges that you’ve faced?

Don Stuart. He’s a very self-effacing guy; he can be quiet and deferential. It’s amazing as I’ve gotten into this job to know just how far into this field he was active and what a huge difference he had made in farmland protection throughout the region.  I’ve just been humbled by it, to think he was really effective on so many different levels. So he really is one of my heroes in this regard.

Any last thoughts about AFT’s work in the Pacific Northwest?

We recognize that we are a very, very small organization with a very, very big mission and that we couldn’t get our work done without partnerships all over the place. It’s been wonderful as I get into this job, knowing how willing people are to partner with AFT based largely on a 30 year history of success in this area. And people lean into these activities. So I feel like we’re standing on other people’s shoulders doing this work, people that have gone before and done excellent work for AFT over the years.


Dennis CantyAbout the author: Dennis Canty is the Pacific Northwest Director for American Farmland Trust. Before joining AFT, Canty founded Evergreen Funding Consultants in 2001, a Seattle firm that focuses on funding strategies for environmental projects.

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Stories of Farmland Protection Help Steer Future of Wisconsin’s Farmland

From tales of struggle and triumph passed down through generations of a farm family to accounts of new beginnings for those venturing into agriculture for the first time, the stories shared by farmers are as rich and diverse as the fields they sow. These stories mark the history of a farm family and, as was recently witnessed in Green Bay, Wisconsin, can also help chart the path for their future.

In early June, members of Wisconsin’s agricultural and conservation communities lent their stories to the Board of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, a policy-making body within the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The department was tasked in 2011 through the state budget appropriations process to review and evaluate its investment in the fledgling Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) program. Through the PACE program, landowners can apply for state funding to help purchase the development rights of their working lands and help protect it from non-agricultural development. The board meeting in Green Bay was the latest in the fight for continued PACE support.

There is no off-season in agriculture and the spring and summer months can be particularly demanding. Nevertheless, speakers came from farms across the state, each leaving much work waiting for them back home, to share their stories and to make the case for PACE. Several farmers detailed the economic development benefits tied to PACE funding. They identified incentives to buy more land, expand operations and provide opportunities for young family members: When they reinvested in agriculture, their employees and local communities also benefited.

As young farmers Christa Behnke, Zoey Brooks and Kyle Zwieg explained, the PACE easements on their families’ properties have provided them certainty for the future and the opportunity to carry on the family business. Zwieg added that he and a brother would probably be working off the farm had it not been for their farm’s PACE easement.

The power of these farmers’ voices—just a sliver of the approximately 37,000 farm operators across the state—illuminated the numerous benefits of PACE. As a result of their efforts, the board took decisive action. After reviewing the recently released PACE report in the afternoon, the board recommended to the Wisconsin Legislature that the PACE program be continued and a source of funding be identified. The motion passed unanimously.

This good news is the latest in American Farmland Trust’s ongoing work to help protect Wisconsin’s critical farmland. Along with our partner, Gathering Waters Conservancy, we have been on the ground in Wisconsin since 2008, working to secure essential policies and programs through the Campaign for Wisconsin’s Farm and Forest Lands. Together, we organized and coordinated a sizeable and influential coalition in support of creating two new farmland protection and farm viability programs — PACE and the Agricultural Enterprise Area Program — that were adopted and funded by the state Legislature in 2009.

However, then newly anointed Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker targeted the PACE program for elimination in his inaugural budget package in early 2011. Through the “Friends of Farmland Protection” campaign, American Farmland Trust and Gathering Waters Conservancy coordinated key supporters from the farm, local government, land trust and planning communities to reach out to lawmakers, the governor and other key leaders to voice strong grassroots support for farmland protection in Wisconsin. In the end, the Legislature listened to the stories shared about the importance of PACE, removing the proposal that would have eliminated the PACE program and restoring funds for the first round of approved applications.

Altogether, the land protection and conservation involvement of American Farmland Trust and our partners in Wisconsin have made progress while overcoming significant hurdles since 2008. The impact has been the designation of 340,000 acres in 17 Agricultural Enterprise Areas and 75 applications covering more than 20,000 acres to the PACE program. But our work is far from complete. Through collective action and shared stories, we continue to help steer efforts to protect Wisconsin’s farmland for generations to come.


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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Report Charts Progress Toward Achieving California’s Agricultural Vision

California agricultural leaders are making progress on a broad front to address major challenges to the industry’s sustainability, guided by goals established by the State Board of Food and Agriculture. And they are doing so by collaborating with environmentalists and representatives of other groups with an interest in the food system. These are the conclusions of a new report by American Farmland Trust (AFT) on the progress of California Agricultural Vision.

California Farm Fields on cover of From Strategies to Results report

The report, From Strategies to Results, stems from a process that was started in 2008 by the State Board and the California Department of Food & Agriculture. California Agricultural Vision (Ag Vision) was designed to identify and promote actions that farmers, ranchers and others in the food system should take to assure a healthy population, a clean environment and a profitable industry.

From Strategies to Results documents more than 40 initiatives being taken to implement the recommendations of an earlier AFT report, Strategies for Sustainability, published in late 2010. Those recommendations emerged from a two-year process of engaging more than a hundred stakeholders, which was facilitated by AFT at the request of the State Board. A blue ribbon Ag Vision advisory committee of twenty leaders representing agriculture, the environment, hunger and nutrition, farm labor and other interests, formulated the final recommendations. Co-chaired by former AFT president Ralph Grossi and Luawanna Hallstrom, a member of the State Board, it continues to meet periodically to track progress and encourage broader participation.

We would like to hear from you!

Read California Agricultural Vision: Strategies for Sustainability (2010)

Read the new From Strategies to Results and share in the comment space below what you believe are the most important and promising of the more than 40 initiatives described in the report.

Vote for your top priority Strategy for Sustainability

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Ed ThompsonAbout the Author: Edward Thompson, Jr., California Director at American Farmland Trust has been with the organization since it was founded 30 years ago, serving in multiple positions and helping initiate a wide variety of projects.

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The Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program: A Partnership for Saving the Land

Since 1996, the backbone of federal support for farmland protection has rested in the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, or FRPP. By bridging federal funds with state, local and private dollars to help these government and private partners protect more than 810,000 acres of rich, agricultural lands.

Development encroaching on farmlandEfforts around the country to protect farmland reflect a deep public commitment to agriculture, to today’s farmers, and to sustaining the land base for future generations of farmers. Supporting these efforts is critical. The USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service reports that, from 1982 to 2007, more than 23 million acres of agricultural land—an area the size of the state of Indiana—was permanently converted to non-agricultural development. The continued loss of productive farmland to development threatens the viability and future of local agricultural industries, communities and economies across the nation. It is critical that the federal government continue to be an important ally and partner in efforts to reverse these trends.

As Congress debates the next farm bill, the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, along with many important conservation programs, will be reviewed and re-assessed. Congress should note that the program has proven to be a cost-effective contributor to locally-driven strategies to protect farmland and support farmers and their communities. Thanks to the local partnership structure, 66 percent of the funding for the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program projects has come from non-federal sources, while administrative costs have also not fallen on federal funding sources.

In order for the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program to continue to be an effective partner in such local efforts, it is essential that it retains key core components. The Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program should:

  • Use program funds only for permanent agricultural conservation easements;
  • Continue to be aimed at protecting working farmland for active agricultural production; and
  • Be based on recognizing state and local governments and private land trusts as vital partners and providing matching funds to these partners to purchase agricultural conservation easements.

In addition to these key program elements, an effective Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program—one that will ensure a productive and healthy future for American agriculture—will require adequate funding. The 2012 Farm Bill comes at a time of high-profile congressional battles over the federal budget. In fact, last fall’s attempt to address the deficit through the Joint Select Committee forced approximately $23 billion in farm program cuts over 10 years, with more than $6 billion coming from conservation programs. The Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program received disproportionate cuts—nearly 30 percent—when other conservation programs saw 10 to 20 percent reductions. All of this, at a time when demand for farmland protection is on the rise, including a steady backlog of existing funding requests and growing interest from the western ranching community.

As the 2012 Farm Bill negotiations move forward, Congress needs to have a clear picture of the critical need to protect the nation’s farmland. You can help American Farmland Trust share this message by contacting your member of Congress.  Let them know that the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program must not see unfair cuts in the farm bill.


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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No Farms, No Food® Rally 2012: Better than Ever!

Farm and food advocates from around New York State laid solid groundwork for legislative funding to protect farmland, and sustain the business of agriculture, at American Farmland Trust’s third annual No Farms, No Food® Rally, held February 15 in Albany.

Our latest Rally brought together more than 100 individuals, representing 70 supporting organizations, and sent a powerful message to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Commissioner of Agriculture Darrel Aubertine, state legislators, and other New Yorkers. That message? We must strengthen our farm and food economy, protect farmland and the environment, and increase access to nutritious food grown in New York. Many participants described the day as “the best No Farms, No Food® Rally yet.”

An Administration Committed to Supporting Farms

2012 No Farms No Food Rally Participants

Jeff Jones, Land Trust Alliance; Janet Thompson, Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust; Fred Huneke, WAC; Stephen Kidd, Urban Garden in Harlem; Terry Wilbur, Oswego County Legislature. photo credit: Dietrich Gehring

Key state leaders underscored their commitment to strengthening New York’s farm and food policy. Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy, along with state agriculture committee chairs Senator Patty Ritchie and Assemblyman Bill Magee, joined us at the Rally and spoke in support of our pro-farm agenda.

Robert Morgenthau, former Manhattan District Attorney and Special Counsel to American Farmland Trust, introduced Lieutenant Governor Duffy. In his opening remarks, Morgenthau, who owns a family farm in Dutchess County, explained the state’s commitment to farmland this way, “There’s bad news and good news. The bad news is that the state doesn’t have a lot of excess money around, and in past years the protection of farmland has not been a priority for the state. The good news is this administration is committed 100 percent to supporting farms.”

Lieutenant Governor Duffy, in his remarks, praised New York State agriculture. “Not only do we have the greatest state in the nation, but we have the greatest agricultural state in the nation. Agriculture is a $4.7 billion industry in the state. That is huge.”

Duffy was emphatic about Governor Cuomo’s support for agriculture. “He gets it, he understands, he listens,” said Duffy. The Lieutenant Governor also spoke of  his own personal interest in visiting farms and talking directly with American Farmland Trust, farmers and other supporters of New York’s farm and food systems, and about ways the state can help farmers build our farm and food economy.

Buy Local

Senator Patty Ritchie, Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, told an enthusiastic crowd that “eating local matters.” Ritchie represents one of the largest-dairy producing regions in the state.  It includes Oswego and Jefferson Counties, as well as the western half of St. Lawrence County. Ritchie is working with the state Office of General Services and Governor Cuomo to look for ways to bring more New York-produced food to Albany.

Rally participant Bhavani Jaroff of Long Island, and host of the Progressive Radio Network’s iEat Green, recorded her show from Albany on the day of the Rally.  She stressed to listeners and those in attendance that New York must “allocate enough money to keep farmers from needing to sell their land to developers in order to retire, and to make it possible for them to transition their land to a new generation of farmers.” Jaroff went on to say, “We all need to eat, and if we want access to fresh, local, sustainably raised fruits, vegetables and dairy, we need to support our farmers.”

Building Relationships

It is imperative that the voices of pro-farming, pro-farmland advocates ring throughout Albany in the days immediately ahead, as New York State leaders negotiate a budget and review pieces of legislation key to farming’s future.

Visit our website, to see great photos and media stories about the No Farms, No Food® Rally 2012. We encourage you to share the images and articles on your own websites and through social media to help spread the No Farms, No Food® message!

The deadline for a final state budget is March 30, though Governor Cuomo is shooting to have it completed even sooner.  Be sure to sign up for our email updates, if you haven’t already, and we’ll keep you updated during budget negotiations and as legislation we support makes its way through the legislature.

Last but certainly not least, remember that developing relationships with your elected leaders is critical!  Invite them to your farmers market, CSA or land trust event. Ask them to meet your town board or food co-op or take a tour of your community. They must not ever forget—No Farms, No Food®!


David Haight About the Author: David Haight is New York Director of American Farmland Trust and aids state and federal legislators as they work on agricultural and land conservation legislation. He has helped coordinate projects that have permanently protected more than 4,000 acres of New York farmland.

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Farm and Food News 3/2/12

Conservation Practices Show Dual Benefit in Maryland

The Maryland Department of Agriculture recently reported their findings related to the benefits of farmers utilizing cover crops. This year, the practice was used on 429,818 acres of farmland, resulting in better soil quality and reduced agricultural runoff.

A County’s Oral History of Farmland Protection

In the early 1960s, predictions of explosive population growth in California’s Napa Valley led to the founding of the Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve. A recent book, “Oral Histories of Napa County’s Agricultural Preserve,” captures some of the voices who first launched the farmland protection movement in the region.

Documenting Life on the Farm

Four farmers in western North Carolina have been documenting their daily lives since July 2011 through a series of online videos. Part of a longer film-in-progress, the project of Carolina Farm Credit, is offering the farmers’ stories to connect food and community.

New York State Funds Agricultural Development Projects

In an effort to boost economic development in New York, the Empire State Development agency challenged communities last year to compete for funding through its Open for Business Program. Of the $785 million in grants awarded in 2011, $4.3 million was split among 14 agriculture projects, including an Agricultural Enterprise Park on Long Island.

California Community Continues Farmland Protection Legacy

For the past three decades, the Brentwood Agricultural Land Trust has battled development pressure to help protect more than 750 acres of farmland surrounding the city of Brentwood in California. In praise of the organization’s work—accounting for the most easements from any community in the state—one farmer explained, “My father, Stanley, was a farmer. I’m a farmer and my family will continue to farm here.”

House Agriculture Committee Announces Hearings

This week, House Ag Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) announced field hearings taking place across the nation in preparation for the next farm bill. The first hearing will take place on March 9 in Saranac Lake, New York, with the series closing April 20 in Dodge City, Kansas.

Calling All Food Warriors!

Real Time Farms just announced the summer 2012 application opening for the Food Warrior internship program. Running from May 1 to August 20, Real Time Farms is looking for help in Boston, Chicago, Denver, Providence and Washington, D.C.

Upcoming Food and Farming Conferences

As part of Chicago’s Good Food Conference, the Good Food Financing Fair on March 15 will provide an opportunity for farmers and foodies to meet one-on-one with investors, economic development specialists, and other strategic partners to develop relationships and potentially work together.

The first Appalachian Food & Agriculture Summit will take place March 23 to 25 in Blacksburg, Virginia. Farmers,  students  and interested community members are invited to register.

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Farm and Food News 2/17/12

More Than a Dozen New Farms Protected in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Agricultural Land Preservation Board announced an additional 1,470 acres of farmland protected across 14 farms. Since the program started in 1988, state, county and local governments have invested more than $1.1 billion to safeguard 459,007 acres on 4,243 farms.

Conference to Address Community Farms and Food in Hudson Valley

On February 25, farm and food partners in Columbia County, New York, will host the first Farming Our Future conference. The meeting will engage farmers, institutions and consumers in discussion about how to boost local food, farms and communities.

Sharing Stories of Michigan Farmers

Taste the Local Difference of Northwest Michigan has recently launched a new series of photos and stories about local farmers. New stories are added each week.

Small Farm Summit Coming to New York

The New York Small Farm Summit is fast approaching on February 29. The summit seeks to increase the visibility of small farmers, encourage local collaboration among regions and prioritize emerging opportunities to enhance small farms in New York and the Northeast.

Wisconsin Job Seekers Ask “Why Ag?”

A new online service is helping to match Wisconsin residents with appropriate jobs in agriculture. WhyAg.com features a skills-to-job match, as well as links to educational and training opportunities.

Farm-to-Institution Workshops in Virginia

Two workshops—February 28 and March 27—will address the challenges and opportunities involved in offering local, healthy food at Virginia hospitals, schools, nursing homes and corporate cafeterias.

USDA Launches New Beginning Farmer Website

USDA’s National Agricultural Library, in partnership with the American Farm Bureau Federation, recently launched Start2farm.gov, an online portal that provides assistance for beginning farmers and ranchers. The website includes links to training, financing, technical assistance and other support services, as well as successful case studies about new and beginning farmers and ranchers.

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A 2012 Farm Bill Almanac

Predictions for upcoming seasons are laid out each year in the pages of The Old Farmer’s Almanac — charting the sun, moon, tides and past weather records to forecast the year ahead. With that in mind, we’ve done some calculations of our own and gauged the temperature of discussions surrounding farm and food policy for the 2012 Farm Bill.

Should the stars align, here are our predictions for topics to anticipate during the farm bill reauthorization process this spring.

Deficits and Cuts

The national deficit continues to loom overhead and the debate over the 2012 Farm Bill will be dominated like few others this century by deficit pressure. Every section of the legislation will be affected, but by how much we do not know. However, we do know that the deal to increase the debt ceiling means the farm bill will be cut by about $15 to $16 billion as a result of automatic sequestration. These cuts will most likely be the starting point—and not the end point—for final numbers.

Safeguarding the Environment

For conservation, 2012 will be a year when climate and environmental issues establish new trends and challenges. Dramatic weather events in 2011 created highs and lows in American agriculture, and coming years will be no exception. The discussion will focus on how to make conservation programs more efficient while equipping farmers with conservation tools and programs to meet environmental challenges and regulatory burdens.

With conservation programs having already contributed more than $2 billion to the nation’s deficit reduction through appropriations cuts, we think the farm bill debate this spring should center on promoting conservation funding without the threat of additional cuts. Conservation programs are too valuable to lose now—and for our future.

The Future of Farm Support Programs

Caught up in the budget belt-tightening are proposals to alter farm support, or subsidy, programs. For the first time in two decades, it is likely that direct payments will be eliminated. What will replace them is unclear, but the debate is currently focused on the appropriate role of government in helping farmers address risk.

We believe that  new safety net programs must protect farms from risks they can’t control, while also minimizing the programs’ influence on the economic and environmental behavior of farmers. The debate will be vigorous but we believe it will be critical to creating a farm support system that works effectively for both farmers and consumers.

Who Will be Farming and Stewarding the Land?Woman farmer and child looking out of a barn

Now more than any time since the end of World War II, it’s important for the nation to have a serious discussion about the generational and gender shifts happening in American agriculture.

According to the 2007 U.S. Census of Agriculture, there are more than five times as many farmers at age 65 and older as there are 35 and younger. As the overall farm population ages, the influence of female landowners is predicted to rise.— 70 percent of farmland is expected to change hands in the next 20 years, with women potentially ending up  owning most of it. While we face the critical question of how land will be transitioned, at the same time we see the rise of young adults looking to start careers in agriculture but facing challenges securing land and succeeding in farming.

It will be difficult for farm policy leaders to ignore the changing demographics in agriculture. We think changes in land ownership, land stewardship and the engagement of young and beginning farmers in agriculture should be part of the discussion as Congress addresses programs for farmland protection, farm viability, and conservation.

Strengthening America’s Farm and Food System

Lawmakers will need to look systematically at what rural development policy is supposed to do to help today’s rural America.

The 2012 Farm Bill can be a catalyst to help rural America by finding ways to stimulate new market opportunities for agriculture and further support for local and regional food systems. Consumer demand for local food continues to rise, and farm policy can play a critical role in helping farmers provide it.

A Healthier Nation

Public health and nutrition, and the intersection with agriculture, is currently at the forefront of national interest. Amid on-going conversations about public health and chronic diseases is a focus on the availability of fresh, healthy food.

The connection between healthier diets and agricultural production is very real and easy to see. The demand for healthy food opens markets for agricultural products and potentially  helps keep farmers farming. Less clear, but no less important, is the role that public health demands may play in   local and regional food systems. The next farm bill presents the opportunity to explore public health while also creating market opportunities for farmers. We think 2012 will be the beginning of a long term trend of a new public health constituent group in the farm bill.

The forecast for the 2012 Farm Bill will take the direction of real forces shaping farm and food policy. As discussions around the 2012 Farm Bill get underway in Washington, we’ll be asking supporters of America’s farms and food to learn more, speak up and be heard.

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Growing Agriculture in the Provision State

Did you know that Connecticut was coined the “Provision State” by George Washington for the important role the state’s productive farms played in feeding the troops for the American Revolution?

Connecticut Valley farm and barnAgriculture is growing and changing in Connecticut again, with a need to reclaim pastures and cropland while rebuilding agricultural infrastructure. To help meet this need and boost the job creating activities associated with agriculture, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture will soon launch a new Farmland Restoration Program. Department of Agriculture Commissioner Steven Reviczky credits Governor Malloy for promoting the restoration provision, noting in his travels the number of overgrown fields were there were once productive farms.

In many parts of the state, there is great competition for the best farmland and little opportunity for beginning farmers to access land. The new program will help farmers and landowners restore private, state, municipal and land trust lands back into agricultural production. Up to $20,000 per project will be available (with a match required) to implement a number of different restoration and conservation practices. The restoration plan will be developed in consultation with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and Connecticut Conservation District Specialists, with federal funds being leveraged for some of the conservation practices. Potential activities funded by the new program include the removal of invasive plants and brush, installation of fencing for reclamation areas to protect crops and wetlands, the renovation of farm ponds and the planting of streamside buffers.

The Farmland Restoration Program is expected to increase the acreage of farmland available to help new and existing farmers grow their businesses, thus creating jobs and providing fresh local products to meet growing consumer demands so the state can once again reclaim its name as “The Provision State.”

Details about the program and application materials are available at the Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s website, www.CTGrown.gov (click on “Programs and Services”), or by calling 860-713-2511.


Kip Kolesinkskas, American Farmland Trust About the Author: Kip Kolesinskas is a consulting Conservation Scientist for the New England Office of American Farmland Trust.  For 20 years, he served as USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service State Soil Scientist for Connecticut and Rhode Island.

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