Maine Farmland Trust's 2022 State Policy Priorities

Maine Farmland Trust's 2022 State Policy Priorities

February 9, 2022


Henry Trotter

The 2022 legislative session is already underway in Maine, and many important bills will be considered that have significant ramifications for Maine farms. Our top priorities this year include: protecting farms and farmland from PFAS contamination, advocating for balanced solar development that minimizes impacts to farmland, bolstering state programs that provide economic support to and assist farmers with infrastructure and market development, tribal sovereignty, and more. Several of these bills are slated for hearings soon – sign up here to receive action alerts so you can advocate for Maine farms.

Protecting Farms and Farmland from PFAS

Farmland is foundational to a healthy local food system. PFAS, so-called forever chemicals, are persistent in the environment, and the application of contaminated sludge or residuals decades ago by farmers who were unaware of the presence and health risks of PFAS can still impact PFAS levels in the soil today. We must protect Maine farm businesses and farmland from contamination.

MFT is supporting LD 1911, An Act to Prohibit the Contamination of Clean Soils with So-called Forever Chemicals. One of the ways PFAS chemicals have entered agricultural soils has been through the application of industrial or municipal sludge or residuals on farmland. LD 1911 as originally drafted would have ensured that screening levels are either updated or established for all PFAS substances to protect clean soils from PFAS contamination, and would have prohibited the land application or distribution of sludge, or compost derived from sludge, if it does not meet those updated screening levels. You can find MFT’s testimony in support of the bill here.

Sen. Stacy Brenner, one of the Chairs of the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee, later introduced an amendment to the bill that bans the land application of sludge and compost derived from sludge, and prohibits the sale of compost derived from sludge in Maine. On February 7th, a majority of the ENR Committee voted to advance the legislation as amended.

This is an incredibly important development for protecting farms and farmland from PFAS contamination! We are so grateful to all of our members and supporters who responded to our action alert and either testified at the hearing or contacted legislators to express their support for the legislation. Sign up for MFT’s policy list HERE to receive an action alert about how you can get involved in making sure the full Legislature passes this bill.

Working to Support Balanced Solar Development in Maine

Renewable energy is a critical tool in addressing climate change, as is expanding our ability to grow more food locally. MFT supports renewable energy production on farms as long as it does not significantly diminish the potential for agricultural production.

Last year, Ellen Griswold from MFT participated in the Agricultural Solar Siting Stakeholder Group that was charged with developing recommendations to incentivize the siting of solar energy projects that minimize impacts to important agricultural lands. You can find out more about the Stakeholder Group here. MFT will be working with legislators, partners and agency officials to advance several of the recommendations coming out of the Stakeholder Group, including creating greater regulatory efficiency for well-sited solar projects through the permit-by-rule process; supporting the development of dual-use projects that integrate primary agricultural activities; creating a centralized database of information related to approved and constructed projects; and providing more technical assistance to municipalities as they work to evaluate solar projects. We will also continue to engage in efforts to ensure that impacts to important agricultural and natural resources are considered and that well-sited projects are given a leg up in renewable energy programs.

Enhancing Agricultural Grant and Financing Programs

To support Maine’s rural economic development, farms must be economically viable. More consistent funding for the Agricultural Development Grant (ADG) program and some structural changes to the Agricultural Marketing Loan Fund (AMLF) would allow more farmers to access this important financial support to grow successful businesses.

MFT is supporting proposed changes to LD 219, An Act To Enhance the Agricultural Marketing Loan Fund by Establishing a Variable Interest Rate for Loans and To Allow Participants in the Maine Farms for the Future Program to Borrow at That Rate. The proposed changes would provide dedicated annual funding in the amount of $750,000 to the Agricultural Development Grant (ADG) program, a very popular program that provides farmers with cost-share grants for market development, value-added processing projects, and new technology demonstration projects. The proposed changes would also make structural adjustments to the Agricultural Marketing Loan Fund (AMLF), which provides low-cost financing to farmers and food processors for projects that improve the manufacturing, marketability and production of Maine products. The proposed adjustments include reducing the match burden for borrowers to 10% and providing the same interest rate as the Potato Marketing Loan Fund so more farmers can take advantage of this important financing. Finally, the proposed amendment would also expand the types of projects that can receive AMLF funding to include climate-related and irrigation projects and land acquisition for new farmers.

The public hearing for LD 219 took place on Tuesday, January 25, 2022 before the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (ACF) Committee. You can find MFT’s testimony here. The ACF Committee held a work session for the bill on February 1, 2022 and voted that it “Ought to Pass.”

Preventing the Development of Large Tracts of Farmland

Although MFT is very sensitive to the need for more housing in many areas of the state, we don’t believe the way to address that challenge is to open up large tracts of farmland to development, particularly if the community has identified the protection of farmland and support for farms as a priority. This is especially true given that we are already losing farmland in Maine, and we need that land base to support the development of a more robust local and regional food system.

Therefore, MFT will be opposing LD 1884, An Act to Create Affordable Agricultural Homesteads. The bill would prohibit the types of requirements that municipalities can set for zones primarily used for agriculture, and in doing so, limit the ability of municipalities to protect farmland through agricultural zoning.

The Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee will be holding a hearing on LD 1884 on Monday, February 14th. Sign up for MFT’s policy list here to receive an action alert about how you can get involved in opposing this bill.

Investing in Maine’s Dairy Stabilization Program, or the Tier Program

Ensuring the economic viability of dairy farms in Maine is important for Maine’s entire agricultural sector and for rural communities across the state. Maine’s Dairy Stabilization Program, or Tier Program, provides critical economic support to dairy farmers, allowing more dairy farms to stay in business when the price they receive from the marketplace for their milk falls below their cost of production

MFT is supporting LD 1805 – Resolve, Regarding Legislative Review of Chapter 26: Producer Margins, a Major Substantive Rule of the Maine Milk Commission. LD 1805 would ensure that the target payments to farmers that are provided by the Tier Program are informed by the most up-to-date cost of production numbers.

The public hearing for LD 1805 took place before the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (ACF) Committee on January 11, 2022. You can find MFT’s testimony here. The ACF work session for the bill was held Tuesday, January 25, 2022, and the ACF Committee voted “Ought to Pass as Amended.”

Tribal Sovereignty

As a farmland conservation and food systems organization, MFT understands the critical importance of access to land and the ability to manage natural resources and land use for both economic viability and environmental stewardship. Communities throughout the state would greatly benefit from restoring the Wabanaki Tribes’ ability to manage tribal lands, waters, and resources.

MFT supports LD 1626 because it would enact the 22 changes to the Indian Claims Settlement Act that were recommended by a bipartisan task force, and in doing so, ensure that the Passamaquoddy Tribe, the Penobscot Nation, and the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians enjoy the same rights, privileges, powers and immunities as other federally-recognized Indian Tribes across the country. These recommendations include removing some of the barriers that the Tribes have faced in purchasing land and restoring the Tribes’ rights to regulate hunting, fishing, natural resources, and land use on Tribal lands and waters, as allowed by federal law.

The Legislature’s Committee on Judiciary collected public testimony in May of 2021. You can find MFT’s testimony here. The bill was carried over, and the Judiciary Committee will be holding a public hearing on Tuesday, February 15th.

We depend on our members and supporters to lift up the importance of these issues to legislators and other government officials. You can get involved and advocate for Maine farms by signing up to receive policy updates and action alerts here.

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