February 16, 2023
Maine Farmland Trust partners with farmers, state policymakers and other stakeholders to cultivate a political and social environment in which Maine farms thrive. Through our farmland protection & farmland access work and the relationships we hold with farmers, our policy work is informed by the needs of farmers and focuses on broader changes that help grow the future of farming we envision. The first session of the 131st Maine Legislature is underway, and we are excited to share our view on the state-level policies that, with your support, can make a big difference for agriculture in Maine.
These top priorities are interconnected with several other important topics that we will be tracking as the legislative session unfolds. Some of these topics include amending tax law to benefit farms, strengthening food security, increasing land access, ensuring tribal sovereignty, and more. Keep an eye out over the course of this legislative session as we take a deeper look into these additional important issues
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Protecting and stewarding farmland is a top priority for Maine Farmland Trust because it is essential for ensuring we have the land base to grow our agricultural economy, particularly as more farmers reach retirement age and development pressures continue to increase across the state. Protecting land is also a key natural climate solution since undeveloped land sequesters carbon and avoids the greater emissions associated with developed land, provides the land base to grow our local and regional food economy and create greater food security, and provides an opportunity for the climate benefits resulting from farmers using climate smart practices on the land.
Balanced Solar Siting
We will be supporting efforts to incentivize the siting of solar energy projects that avoid or minimize agricultural and natural resources impacts, so that we establish the right balance between supporting solar development and ensuring it does not result in the loss of important agricultural lands or impede agricultural production or land access.
Siting on Contaminated Land
We are enthusiastically supporting An Act to Promote Economic Reuse of Contaminated Land Through Clean Energy Development , which introduces measures to promote redevelopment of land with significant PFAS contamination for renewable energy, such as solar. Since research on PFAS remediation methods is still ongoing and we are still at the brink of understanding the potential for successful remediation, Maine Farmland Trust supports a focus on agricultural land where significant PFAS contamination prevents further agricultural production. This bill would allow farmers to realize value from land that may need to be restricted from farming for years to come.
Compensatory Mitigation for Natural Resource Impacts
Since Maine’s best farmland only makes up 14 percent of all Maine soils, we will be supporting legislation that deters renewable energy development on Maine’s prime farmland soils and soils of statewide importance by requiring developers to pay a mitigation fee if development does occur on those lands. Revenue generated through this effort would be used to support farmland protection efforts.
Dual-Use Pilot Program and Access to Solar Project Information
Lastly, we will be supporting legislation to establish a pilot project to study and create uniform standards for solar development that is compatible with agriculture in Maine so that dual-use projects can be expanded throughout the state. In addition, this legislation would create a statewide public database with key characteristics of fully permitted or constructed energy projects so that land use trends can be identified and strategies can be created to avoid the over-development of important resources. Proposed legislation would advance these two ideas which are based on recommendations included in the Final Report of the Agricultural Solar Stakeholder Group. The 130th Maine Legislature voted in favor of these ideas in 2022 (LD 856) but they were not enacted due to lack of approved funding by the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. We hope to get these ideas through the finish line this year.
Public Funding for Farmland Protection
An important legislative priority is ramping up the amount of state public funding for farmland protection in Maine. Maine’s farmland is a finite and valuable resource but we are not keeping pace with state-funded farmland protection efforts in other states in our region. According to American Farmland Trust’s most recent Status of State PACE (Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement) Programs report, Maine ranks second lowest in the Northeast in terms of the number of farmland acres protected with state funding. Only Rhode Island is lower than Maine with 7,979 acres protected compared to our 9,882, but Maine has roughly 1.3 million acres of farmland and Rhode Island has only about 60,000 acres total. We believe there is opportunity to chart a path forward for rapidly expanding publicly funded farmland protection efforts in the state. Maine should explore and adopt ideal models for generating robust public revenue for widespread agricultural lands conservation and for the utilization of that revenue. We expect that it may take time to build consensus on the best models to pursue and anticipate that this legislative priority may need to continue forward into next year.
Continued support for Farmers Impacted by PFAS Contamination
PFAS contamination is a threat to farms in Maine and across the country. Our collective work in response to PFAS contamination is far from over. MFT will continue to advocate for strong state support and relief for PFAS-impacted farmers as well as support efforts aimed at expanding access to contaminants testing throughout the state and reducing the flow of toxins into our woods, fields, and waters.
Shoring up Critical Program Funding for Drought Relief and the Maine Healthy Soils Program
Given the impacts that changes to the climate can have on farmers and farm businesses, making sure farmers have the tools they need to become more resilient to the impacts of climate change has also become a priority for our organization. As a result, we are very excited to support the proposed funding for the Maine Healthy Soils Program, a program MFT helped to champion, as well as for the Farmers Drought Relief Grant Program that are both included in the Governor’s proposed biennial budget. These funding provisions will allow for robust implementation of these critical programs. A hearing for the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry’s portions of the Governor’s budget is scheduled for February 28, 2023. Stay tuned for ways to support these budget provisions!
We support efforts to strengthen state economic and market development programs that provide needed grants and loans to Maine farms and develop our local and regional food systems. Additional in-state agricultural processing and infrastructure capacity is critical to helping farmers grow and diversify their businesses and to supporting local and regional supply chain development. MFT is supporting An Act to Strengthen Maine’s Agriculture, Food, and Forest Economy because it would expand infrastructure investments in the state’s agriculture, food and forest sectors and help to grow Maine’s food economy.
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