2024 State Policy Priorities

2024 State Policy Priorities

January 12, 2024


Abby Farnham

The Second Regular Session of Maine’s 131st Legislature is underway, and we have hit the ground running in collaboration with farmers, state policymakers, partner organizations, our members and supporters, and communities across the state to advance policy change that will:

  1. Protect Maine’s working farmland and critical agricultural resources
  2. Promote equitable access to farmland
  3. Expand agricultural infrastructure investments

Many of MFT’s priority bills were carried over from the last legislative session. You can join us in getting these bills across the finish line and advocating for Maine farms by signing up to receive policy updates and action alerts.

Other important issues we are supporting alongside our top priorities include: recommendations emerging from the Agricultural Workers Minimum Wage Committee that MFT participated in over the past several months; an updated payment structure for Maine’s Dairy Stabilization “Tier” Program that adequately reflects rising costs of production; Wabanaki tribal sovereignty; more affordable workforce housing; local land use planning and permitting strategies that support farmland protection and local food production, and more.

Our top state policy priorities for 2024 include:

1. Protecting Maine’s working farmland and critical agricultural resources

Strengthening the capacity of publicly-funded farmland protection in Maine

Protecting farmland is critical for ensuring that we have the land base needed to grow our agricultural economy and strengthen food security and resilience to climate change for our state and communities. Yet, less than 5 percent of Maine’s farmland is currently protected – this is the lowest amount by far of any state in New England.

Maine lags behind due to limited public investment in farmland protection. In Maine, the vast majority of our protected working farmland has been accomplished by Maine Farmland Trust and other land trusts through the support of private funding. Although the Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) Program, Maine’s primary public funding vehicle for land conservation, and the recently formed Working Farmland Access and Protection Program, administered by the state’s Bureau of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources, form important pieces of the puzzle, the amount of state funding that has been dedicated to farmland protection efforts in Maine is significantly less than in other Northeastern states.

We need to rapidly expand our farmland protection efforts in the state, particularly publicly funded farmland protection in order to stave off development pressures and ensure that farmers can continue to access the land they need for agricultural production. In order to meet the challenge, we need to explore models for generating robust public revenue for widespread agricultural lands conservation and ensure that we have the program structures in place for efficient utilization of that revenue.

LD 579, An Act to Support Farmland Conservation sponsored by Senator Brenner, seeks to streamline implementation of and build capacity within the state’s Working Farmland Access and Protection Program in order to strengthen the program’s ability to conserve Maine’s farmland for current farmers and future generations.

MFT will be supporting LD 579 so that as a state we are prepared to make accelerated progress in protecting our working farmland. A public hearing for LD 579 is scheduled for Wednesday January 17, 2024 at 9am. As the bill is currently in development, contact Shelley Megquier at smegquier@mainefarmlandtrust.org for the draft text of the bill if you’re planning to provide testimony.

Advancing balanced solar siting

One of MFT’s top policy priorities from the 2023 legislative session, which we were very glad to see signed into law, was LD 1881, An Act Regarding Compensation Fees and Related Conservation Efforts to Protect Soils and Wildlife and Fisheries Habitat from Solar and Wind Energy Development and High-impact Electric Transmission Lines Under the Site Location of Development Laws, sponsored by Representative Landry. This bill establishes special protections for high-value agricultural land during the permitting process of solar energy projects. Proposed solar development projects of more than 5 acres located wholly or partially on high-value farmland will need to be permitted by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry (DACF) before being allowed to proceed. Additionally, developers of permitted solar energy projects over 20 acres on high-value agricultural land will be required to pay conservation compensation or mitigation fees for impacts to affected lands. Revenue generated will be used to support farmland protection efforts.

The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry solicited initial stakeholder input on components of this bill in the fall of 2023, and formal rulemaking to shape implementation and define “high-value agricultural land” will be getting underway soon.

MFT will continue engagement on LD 1881 and provide input on the important farmland protection impacts the bill creates as the rulemaking process unfolds in 2024.

Another bill MFT supported last session, LD 1227, An Act to Balance Renewable Energy Development with Natural and Working Lands Conservation sponsored by Representative Pluecker, received strong support, but was ultimately not funded and so was carried over to the 2024 legislative session. This bill would establish a dual-use energy pilot program in Maine as well as the creation of a public database of permitted and constructed energy facilities.

MFT will be supporting LD 1227 again to promote advancements in dual-use agricultural and solar energy production projects in Maine.

2. Promoting equitable access to farmland

Access to farmland is becoming increasingly difficult for farmers in Maine due to dramatic increases in land prices, a growing interest in farmland from non-farming buyers, conversion of farmland to non-agricultural uses, the rapid pace of solar development on agricultural land, and PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) contamination of farmland. Farmland access is an even greater challenge for historically underserved farmers, including farmers who are Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) who have been systemically excluded from opportunities to access land and capital through land displacement and discriminatory policies and practices.

Last legislative session, MFT supported LD 1274, An Act to Increase Land Access for Historically Disadvantaged Populations sponsored by Senator Hickman, which would have established two distinct but mutually reinforcing approaches to encourage the growth of Black farmers in the field of agriculture in Maine: the Black Farmer Restoration Program to support Black farmers accessing land, and the Farm Conservation Corps to provide young people from socially disadvantaged groups with an entry into farming and agriculture through an apprenticeship program. The bill was carried over to the 2024 legislative session.

MFT will be supporting LD 1274 again to advance equitable access to land and resources for historically underserved farmers.

3. Expanding agricultural infrastructure investments

An Act to Strengthen Maine's Agriculture, Food System and Forest Products Infrastructure Investment (LR 2943) is being introduced this legislative session by Speaker Ross. The bill will seek to expand funding for the Maine Agriculture, Food and Forest Products Investment Fund, which would provide an important source of support for much-needed agricultural infrastructure development. Expanded agricultural infrastructure in Maine is critical to helping farmers grow and diversify their businesses and to supporting local and regional supply chain development.

MFT will be supporting An Act to Strengthen Maine's Agriculture, Food System and Forest Products Infrastructure Investment to boost in-state agricultural processing and infrastructure capacity.

Get involved

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Are you a farmer interested in joining MFT to create policy change? Share your priorities and get involved.

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