April 20, 2023
Every five years, Congress drafts a new federal Farm Bill, which determines how billions of dollars are spent in our communities. The Farm Bill shapes what’s grown on the land and who grows it, conservation and climate, the safety of our food system, and the economic health of rural businesses and communities. This year we’ve outlined our four top priorities to advocate for inclusion in the Farm Bill. These priorities are: 1) farmland protection and access, 2) local and regional food systems development, 3) climate-smart agriculture, and 4) a federal safety net for PFAS-impacted farms.
Over the next few weeks we will take a deeper dive into each priority, and how you can support. This week, we are starting with farmland protection and access.
Maine farmland is the foundation for thriving farm businesses, communities, and rural economies, and is necessary for a strong local and regional food system. We want to see a 2023 Farm Bill that invests in farmland protection while more strongly prioritizing land affordability and access across programs.
How we will support change:
Protecting Maine’s finite farmland from development and stewarding agricultural soils as critical natural resources for Maine’s future are key to ensuring we have the ingredients needed to feed our region. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) can currently fund only about one-quarter of the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program – Agricultural Land Easement (ACEP-ALE) applications that it receives each year. Access to quality agricultural land is a challenge for many farmers, but barriers are especially high for low-income farmers, new and beginning farmers, and for farmers who have been excluded from farmland access due to longstanding structural and institutional racism. We are advocating for a 2023 Farm Bill that will increase access to land and ensure fair distribution of available resources to all farmers.
We specifically would like to see the following responses within federal programs:
● Increase the amount of support available for farmland protection and access efforts by increasing the amount of overall funding for ACEP-ALE.
● Ensure consistent sources of funding for Buy-Protect-Sell (BPS) to support farmland access.
● Prioritize ALE projects that maintain agricultural farm viability and include affordability protections, such as an option to purchase at agricultural value (OPAV).
● Increase the capacity at NRCS to be able to process land protection projects more efficiently.
● Create an expedited pathway to the Conservation Stewardship Program for farms that have been conserved through ACEP-ALE.
● Work to make the BPS portion of ACEP-ALE a more efficient and effective process so that it can function as an important farmland access tool. For example:
o Provide the same benefits for certified entities in BPS transactions that they receive in standard ACEP-ALE transactions.
o Ensure that the 3-year window for farmland transfers for BPS projects can be regularly extended.
● Amend the process for Farm Service Agency (FSA) Direct Farm Ownership loans so that they can more easily be used by farmers seeking land and raise the maximum loan amounts so that they more accurately reflect rising costs of land. For example, ensure that it is easy for farmers to attain pre-approval and pre-qualification for Direct Farm Ownership loans so farmers seeking land can move quickly on land purchases when desirable land comes up for sale.
● Ensure adequate resources for service providers who are supporting farmers seeking land access and landowners transitioning out of farm ownership—especially with respect to farmland access for beginning and young farmers, farm transition for underserved farmers, and preventing land loss within socially disadvantaged communities and communities of color.
How can you get involved?
The Farm Bill is an expansive piece of legislation - while it sounds like a single bill, it will be a package deal that includes hundreds of provisions that address and fund agriculture-related programs and policies. To get these many provisions included in the Farm Bill, “marker bills” for specific provisions must first be introduced to Congress as part of that process. Many markers bills have already been introduced and others are forthcoming. MFT’s Policy Alerts are a great place to hear about these marker bills, and to take action to show your support.
Sign up to receive policy updates and action alerts. We’ll keep you in the loop on specific opportunities to contact members of Maine’s Congressional Delegation and other actions that you can take in the coming weeks and months, so that you can help to advance provisions that support Farmland Protection & Access, and our other priorities!
Members of Maine’s Congressional Delegation are truly eager to hear from their constituents so consider sharing YOUR ideas and priorities for the next Farm Bill including any of MFT’s Farmland Protection & Access ideas that resonate with you. Please see below for a list of Maine’s Representatives and Senators and consider making a call to one of their offices or reaching out on social media.
Representative Chellie Pingree (District 1)
Washington DC Office - Phone: (202) 225-6116
Portland Office - Phone: (207) 774-5019
Representative Jared Golden (District 2)
Washington DC Office - Phone: (202) 225-6306
Bangor Office - Phone: (207) 248-7400
Senator Susan Collins
Washington DC Office - Phone: (202) 224-2523
Bangor Office - Phone: (207) 945-0417
Senator Angus King
Washington DC Office - Phone: (202) 224-5344
Bangor Office - Phone: (207) 945-8000
You can learn more about our 2023 Farm Bill Priorities by downloading a full copy of our top recommendations, which includes why the issue matters to Maine farmers, how we are advocating for change, and a list of specific desired changes within federal programs.
Are you a farmer interested in joining MFT to create policy change? Share your priorities and get involved.