Tag Archives: farmland

Farm Policy Roundup – October 10, 2014

American Farmland Trust’s National Conference Online Registration Closes Wednesday, October 15

registernowGREENDon’t miss your opportunity to attend Farmland, Food and Livable Communities, the premiere national conference weaving farmland protection together with conservation, food systems and next generation issues. In addition to keynote speakers such as USDA Under Secretary Robert Bonnie, Former California Secretary of Agriculture and AFT Board Member A.G. Kawamura, and National Geographic Photojournalist Jim Richardson, the conference offers four tracks of workshop sessions on cross-cutting themes.

While online registration closes Wednesday, October 15, on-site registrations at the Hilton Lexington Downtown are welcome October 20-22.  The bus tours, Saving the Bluegrass and Urban, Bourbon and Brew, are full, but if you would like to be added to our waiting list, contact us at AFTNationaConference@farmland.org.

For more information visit www.farmland.org/nationalconference.

We look forward to seeing you in Lexington, Kentucky!

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Preserving Clean Water and Viable Farms in the Mid-Atlantic: An Interview with Jim Baird, Mid-Atlantic Director, American Farmland Trust

What brought you to American Farmland Trust (AFT) and has kept you engaged over the past five years?

I don’t have a farm background but I did overseas work for a long time in sustainable agriculture and community-based things was always part of that. Then I began working more in conservation and sustainability. Working in the Chesapeake Bay region at this point in time has been a profound experience. I see it as a challenge of figuring out how we work and play and grow food and live in this area yet still maintain an estuary that actually functions. It is a civilizational problem. It’s all over the world at the mouth of every major river basin. In this region we are at the cutting edge in figuring out how we do this.

I’m always struck by the amount of respect that comes with me into the room when I say that I’m with American Farmland Trust. I think our partners see us coming with good ideas, well thought through. Obviously we have a constituency and we advocate for them, but I think that we’re seen as honest brokers, people who are trying to make good policy, good decisions, make good things happen, not just advance our side of things. It’s really critical because farmland touches all of those interests so our partnerships are hugely important. A farmer we work with recently said that AFT is able to rise above the local politics that often derail good ideas because we have a national focus and a long perspective. We want what is best for farmland and farming over all.

As part of a coalition in Pennsylvania, AFT helped stop cuts for farmland preservation funds proposed by Governor Corbett. Can you expand upon that accomplishment?

It was a real victory. State budgets are tight everywhere and you look around and see other states where cuts were made yet Pennsylvania survived. The reason I think we were successful is because AFT has helped to build and support a very strong, broad coalition of farmers, agricultural groups and environmental people who are concerned about water and woods and the environmental side of things. And we all got together behind a Save the Farm coalition. We were well-organized and just had a good campaign. It resonated with Pennsylvanians who have shown their commitment to the idea and to pay to protect farmland for 30 years. We got them to speak up, write letters and make calls. We had a great response in the press. Ultimately the legislators listened and make a strong showing to the governor to say that this isn’t ok.

What are some big challenges AFT has faced in the Mid-Atlantic region over the past year?

I think we really need to nail down this issue of having farmland be adequately represented in the solution to this big issue of how do we live on the land in a way that is sustainable? And we need a new look at that because while all the reasons we have identified through the years for why farmland is important are all still true, we also have this heightened concern  about water quality.  We need to understand what role farmland and farmers plays in this realm and we articulate to people. They need to understand how much agriculture is part of the solution for this issue, too. And so this last year I’ve been working on making the case that farmland is essential for water quality so we can make it part of the policy solution.

There are so many uses for land and there are so many more near-term uses that seem more important like housing and transportation, stuff that people have to do on a daily basis. It feels to most people that the food, and the open space and the other benefits are just going to be there and there’s enough land. And we don’t realize how thin that is. That great animation we have about the earth being an apple and how thin, how precious and tiny the part that is farmland and the productive soils that we need are in comparison to the whole earth.

What was another great accomplishment of 2012?

One of the best things was getting a big acknowledgement for our work from the head of Penn State Extension [Dr. Doug Beegle], who is a renowned agronomist and soil scientist. He has been promoting sensible practices that help farmers meet their business need to be profitable and have good yields by being more precise and efficient in how they use nutrients, which helps clean the water. The approach that AFT uses, which we call the BMP Challenge, allows farmers to try out new practices risk free. They work with an expert person in the field to set up a comparison of this new practice compared to what they’ve been doing. Then if they lose money on the new practice, we promise to pay them the difference. It’s a guarantee that lets them sleep well at night because they know that they can try this thing, they can learn from it, and it’s not going to be a big loss for them economically. Having the head of extension at Penn State say, “I think this approach of AFT, this BMP challenge, is the perfect thing to use to get farmers to try out this soil testing practice,” that was great.

What do you think is one of the most important things to note about AFT’s work in the Mid-Atlantic region?

The thing that I keep coming back to is that people really need to have a better appreciation for what farmers are really thinking about and what goes into their decisions and how complex and nuanced those are. It’s a technical, complex profession. It’s just wonderful to sit in meetings with these farmers and hear them discuss their decision-making process. They really care about it. Obviously, it’s their livelihood but they’re working with nature every day and it’s complex. One of the things that I try to do is to get farmers in front of non-farmers and have them hear that.

It’s a highly technical and sophisticated knowledge-based career and it’s risky. You have got to be out there making decisions and spending money and going out on a limb for the whole year, and it’s only when you harvest that yield that you get your paycheck. You have so little control over most of what is important, which is rainfall and temperature. Whew, talk about living life on the edge!

Jim BairdAbout the Author: Jim Baird is Mid-Atlantic Director for the American Farmland Trust where he works to help maintain viable farms and clean water through the adoption of nutrient-related conservation practices and ensuring that farmer concerns are reflected in policy and program discussions.

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Ideas on Farms and Food Come to the Big Apple

Growing concerns about access to locally grown foods, public health issues and the conservation of natural resources recently converged in New York City at this year’s TEDx Manhattan. Among a diverse group including farmers, chefs, educators, environmentalists and local food advocates, I joined in for a day of idea sharing around the concept of “Changing the Way We Eat.”

The "edible" TEDx logo.

The "edible" TEDx logo. (Photo/TEDx Manhattan)

The backdrop of the Manhattan skyline was a surprisingly fitting frame for a discussion about farms and food. TEDx Manhattan was a discussion of ideas rooted in the value of connections between rural and urban people—whether young or old, foodies or environmentalists—and about finding better ways to protect farms and food across the country.

For Patty Cantrell, a journalist working to make the business case for local and regional food, new roads to new markets are not paved in asphalt. Rather, the creation of market opportunities for local food products starts with connecting people. “It’s about making our way back to each other,” she explained, “and moving forward as a result.” Cantrell pointed to the Kalamazoo, Michigan-based Fair Food Matters as a model for empowering communities through food and for connecting people with the land that produces it.

The idea of community was a bit different for Fred Kirschenmann. A farmer in south central North Dakota who serves as both a Distinguished Fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and as president of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, Kirschenmann appealed to the value of the land as a vital piece in the discussion about our food. “Soil is a vibrant, living community. A community of life,” he remarked. Using examples from challenging weather events of the past year, he warned of the pressures of environmental changes on soil that is continually slipping away.

Gary Oppenheimer, AmpleHarvest.org and Erica Goodman, American Farmland Trust

Enjoying a local food lunch with presenter Gary Oppenheimer, founder of AmpleHarvest.org (Photo/TEDx Manhattan)

Whether discussing how to safeguard soil quality to discovering new ways to provide healthier food options in schools, an undertone of the day was the critical need to think about the future today.  Michelle Hughes, Director of GrowNYC’s New Farmer Development Project, connected the rapid loss of farmland to development with the need to cultivate new farmers. The New Farmer Development Project works with immigrant families in New York City to provide access to farmland and to assistance in finding local market opportunities. As Hughes explained, connecting the new farmers to land is making a positive impact on immigrant families and communities while keeping farmland viable and healthy.

The farm and food innovators throughout the audience were an energized community in themselves. I was even able to catch up with Cara Rosaen of Real Time Farms after her impassioned talk on empowering eaters and farmers. In the end, I left with a hopeful feeling. The lesson of the day: When it comes to the health of our lands, access to healthy food, and a viable future for farms, ideas are worth creating, developing and believing in as part of a community invested in a healthy future for us all.

About the author: Erica Goodman is the Communications Associate with American Farmland Trust.

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Tax Package Will Promote the Protection of Working Farms and Ranches

American Farmland Trust and other national conservation organizations heralded the recent signing by President Obama of the omnibus tax package and its provision to extend the enhanced conservation easement tax deduction for the 2010 and 2011 tax years. Originally included in the 2006 Pension Protection Act, the enhanced conservation easement tax deduction allows qualified farmers and ranchers* to deduct the value of a conservation easement contribution up to 100 percent of their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) and expands the period landowners may carry-forward any unused value of a deduction up to 16 years. The legislation greatly increases the potential use of this option to protect our nation’s working agricultural lands.

Conservation easements have been used voluntarily by landowners to protect agricultural lands from development and fragmentation for close to 30 years. The donation or sale of conservation easements has enabled farm families to protect their land for future generations while receiving tax benefits or cash based on the land’s full market value. The donation of conservation easements by landowners has been influenced by IRS rules. However, until the 2006 Pension Protection Act established the enhanced conservation easement tax deduction, these rules provided minimal incentives for farmers and ranchers with a large percentage of their equity tied up in their land. The former IRS rules limited the carry-forward period over which a donor could claim a deduction to six years and capped the annual deduction at 30 percent of AGI.

A simple example can illustrate the power of the new rules in enticing full-time farm and ranch families to consider donating a conservation easement on their productive agricultural land or accepting less than the full purchase price when selling a conservation easement to a publicly funded Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) program. Consider that a conservation easement donation valued at $450,000 and made in 2010 or 2011 by a qualified farmer with an annual AGI of $50,000 will yield the full value of the donation in federal income tax deductions in nine years (the value of the gift up to 100 percent of AGI each year for 16 years or until the gift value is used up: $50,000 X 9 = $450,000). Under the old rules, that same gift would have yielded only $90,000 in federal income tax deductions to the farmer (the value of the gift up to 30 percent of AGI each year for six years or until the gift value is used up: $15,000 X 6 = $90,000).

By creating an opportunity to deduct a large percentage, if not the full amount, of the value of a donated conservation easement, the expanded federal conservation tax deduction provides farmers and ranchers with a powerful business and estate planning tool. This new tax treatment also makes the bargain sale of a conservation easement in a PACE transaction worthy of much more serious consideration by agricultural land owners.

By increasing the likelihood that landowners will donate or accept a discounted price for conservation easements, the federal tax incentive provides tremendous leverage for public farm and ranch land protection funding, stretching those dollars at a time when budgets at all levels of government are stressed to the limit.

* Qualified farmers and ranchers are those who earn more than 50 percent of their gross income from the business of farming in the taxable year in which the conservation easement is donated. Land subject to the conservation easement must be available for agriculture.

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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