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Farm Policy Updates from Maine’s 2021 Legislative Session

The Maine 2021 legislative session has ended, but we are pleased to report that many of MFT’s state policy priorities fared very well this session. Here is a summary of where things stand with our legislative priorities:

Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) Program

The LMF Program is Maine’s primary funding vehicle for conserving land, including agricultural lands. MFT supported several bills related to the LMF Program, including:

LMF Bonds: Three bills, including a bond that was part of Governor Mills’ bond package, to establish a new bond for the LMF Program.

Healthy Soils Program

  • MFT worked with a group of farmers, MOFGA, and the Sierra Club to support LD 437, a bill introduced by MFT Board member Senator Stacy Brenner to establish a Healthy Soils Program at DACF.
    • The Program creates a one-stop shop for farmers for information related to healthy soils practices, including information about how to use these practices, technical assistance services provided by both governmental and non-governmental entities, information about farmers who are using these practices successfully to facilitate farmer to farmer education, and information about funding opportunities to support the use of these practices. The Program has a fund associated with it that would hopefully receive state funding in future years, but in the interim could be a depository for any federal or philanthropic funding.
      • Outcome: The Legislature passed LD 437 and Governor Mills signed it into law on June 10, 2021.

Solar Siting on Farmland

    • Agricultural Solar Siting Stakeholder Group: MFT’s Policy & Research Director Ellen Griswold has been participating in a agricultural solar siting stakeholder group, which includes farmers, other agriculture support organizations, solar developers, and municipal representatives, to develop recommendations to incentivize the siting of solar energy projects so as to minimize impacts on important agricultural land.
      • MFT worked with Rep. Seth Berry to submit LD 856 – a bill that was carried over until the 2022 legislative session and will be used as the vehicle to enact any of the Stakeholder Group recommendations that require legislative approval.
    • Solar Energy Procurement Bills: There were a couple of different bills introduced this session to establish new solicitations for solar energy projects. MFT partnered with The Nature Conservancy, Maine Audubon and other groups to include language in the legislation that requires projects to be assessed based not only on ratepayer or economic benefits, but also on whether the projects avoid or minimize agricultural and natural resources impacts.
      • Outcome: One of the bills did not move forward, and the other bill unfortunately did not include the amended language that requires siting considerations to be part of the evaluation criteria. MFT will continue to advocate for siting considerations to be a part of the evaluation process either through the related Public Utilities Commission rulemaking or through the recommendations that result from the Stakeholder Group.

Infrastructure Investment

  •  MFT supported several bills related to farming and food processing infrastructure this session.
    • MFT supported LD 1733, which would implement the Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan – the Mills Administration’s plan for distributing the funding coming to the state from the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The Plan calls for providing $20 million in funding to support agricultural infrastructure and processing projects.
      • Outcome: The Legislature passed LD 1733 and Governor Mills signed the bill into law on July 19, 2021.
    • MFT supported LD 1565, which would help to provide needed investment in Maine’s food sector by establishing a fund to expand infrastructure investments in the agriculture, food, and forest products economies. LD 1565 would also establish an advisory board to oversee the fund, and require an infrastructure assessment to make sure that the infrastructure investments made through the fund are not duplicative of other efforts, and are targeting the greatest infrastructure needs within the state in the most efficient manner.
      • Outcome: This bill was incorporated into LD 1733. An allocation to the fund was not provided through this process, but the bill was also carried over to the 2022 legislative session.
    • MFT supported LD 1475, which would have established a $5 million bond to provide funds to pursue targeted and appropriately-scaled food processing infrastructure projects in the state.
      • Outcome: The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee did not advance this bill because of the infrastructure investment included in the Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan.

Broadband Expansion

  • MFT supported LD 1235 – a bill to establish a bond for broadband development. MFT began supporting broadband expansion legislation during the last Legislature when it became clear that the lack of access to reliable, high-speed Internet service in Maine remains a significant challenge for many farmers across the state, preventing them from growing and diversifying their businesses. The coronavirus pandemic has only highlighted the critical importance of high-speed Internet for many Maine farm businesses.
      • Outcome: LD 1235 was carried over because of the enactment of LD 1484, which will establish the Maine Connectivity Authority to invest the $150 million in federal funding coming to Maine to support broadband expansion.

State Nutrition Incentive Fund

  • MFT supported LD 691, which would create a state nutrition incentive fund to support nutrition incentive programs within the state like MFT’s Farm Fresh Rewards.
      • Outcome: The Legislature passed LD 691, but the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee reduced the allocation of state funding to $25,000. Although MFT and its partners were hoping for more funding, it is great that the bill was passed and that some funding was provided so that we can advocate for increased funding in future years. The bill became law without the Governor’s signature on July 15, 2021.

Permanent Commission to Study Impacts of Agricultural Policies on BIPOC Farmers

  • As part of MFT’s work to better understand the ways in which our programs interface with issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, MFT supported LD 870, which creates a permanent commission to study the impacts of agricultural policies on farmers who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), particularly as those policies relate to both access to land and access to grants and financing.
      • Outcome: The Legislature passed LD 870 and Governor Mills signed the bill into law on June 8, 2021.
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