Category Archives: Policy

Many Wins for Maine Farmers in the 2018 Farm Bill

After several months of negotiations, the 2018 Farm Bill Conference Committee just released a final version of the bill that includes many of MFT’s priorities to better support farmers and farmland protection in Maine. Both the Senate (87-13) and the House ( 369 Y, 47 N, 17 NV) voted to pass the bill.

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Here is how MFT’s priorities for Maine farms fared in the final bill:

1. Maintain both the Senate and House farm bills’ increases in funding for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) to support the placement of agricultural easements in Maine that protect farmland and make land more affordable for the next generation of farmers.

  • Good: The final bill increases funding for ACEP to $450m/year.

2. Maintain the Senate farm bill’s increase in funding for the development of local and regional food economies through the establishment of the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP).

  • Good: the final bill combines the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) and the Value-Added Producer Grant Program (VAPG) with a new public-private partnership provision, creating LAMP, and provides the program with $50 million per year in mandatory funding.
    • This funding includes $17.5 million per year in mandatory funding for VAPG, $23.5 million per year in mandatory funding for FMLFPP, and $5 million per year for the public-private partnership provision.

3. Maintain the Senate farm bill’s increase in funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), which provides competitive grants to academic institutions, state extension services, producer groups, and community organizations to support and train new farmers and ranchers.

4. Reduce funding cuts to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) so that farmers have the necessary support to address natural resources concerns on their property while keeping their land in production.

  • Mixed: the final bill increases funding for EQIP and CSP for the 5-year cycle of this farm bill (2019-2023), but includes major funding cuts for these working lands programs over the long term, particularly for CSP.

5. Maintain the Senate and House farm bills’ increase in funding for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Program to increase access to local fresh fruits and vegetables for SNAP recipients, and expand markets for farmers.

  • Good: the final bill reauthorizes FINI and provides it with $250 million in funding over 5 years.

6. Maintain the Senate farm bill’s Buy-Protect-Sell provision so that lands trusts can act quickly using ACEP-ALE dollars to protect vulnerable farmland and then sell the land to a farmer.

  • Good: the final bill contains a Buy-Protect-Sell provision.

7. Maintain the Senate farm bill’s increase in funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), which supports research projects that address the most critical challenges facing organic farmers.

  • Good: the final bill increases OREI funding to $50 million per year in permanent baseline funding by 2023, providing a total of $395 million in funding over 10 years.

8. Maintain the Senate farm bill’s increases in funding levels for Farm Service Agency (FSA) direct and guaranteed loans.

  • Good: the final bill increases funding to $3 billion for FSA direct loans and $7 billion for FSA guaranteed loans for 2019-2023.

 

Many of these important provisions are taken from legislation that was sponsored by Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and Maine Senator Susan Collins. We are very grateful to all of Maine’s congressional delegation for their efforts to create a farm bill that works for Maine agriculture, and to all of you who shared your voices with your delegates!

While much of this Farm Bill is a step in a positive direction, there are many challenges ahead. You can help shape the future for farming by making a gift to support our work in Maine! Give here.

Calling all farmers: your knowledge and ideas are needed to shape the future of agriculture in Maine

Farmers throughout the state are invited to share their thoughts about what is needed to grow Maine agriculture. A group of organizations dedicated to supporting Maine farms are convening farmer engagement sessions to develop an assessment of farmer needs and priorities.

“This is a huge and collective effort to get farmer voices to the table and has the potential to be a game changer,” says Nanne Kennedy of Meadowcroft Farm in Washington, and part of the Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society. “It’s time to rethink ways to achieve better outcomes for farmers and their businesses; we all have great ideas of how to do that, on farm, and for the whole industry.”

The convening organizations want to know how state government and other service and education providers can better support Maine’s farming community. The assessment will be used to inform state government, encourage state-level policy that works for Maine farmers, and guide program development for service and education providers supporting farmers and Maine’s agricultural economy.

Farmer engagement sessions will be held at University of Maine Cooperative Extension offices in Skowhegan, Ellsworth, Lisbon Falls, Falmouth, Presque Isle, and Waldoboro, and at the Agricultural Trades Show in Augusta. A remote option and online survey will also be available. The hope is that many farmers will be able to participate.

“I believe a grassroots approach such as the meetings that will be held across the state will bring diverse thinking to the table resulting in a product that truly represents the voice of the farmer,” says Penny Jordan of Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth and the Cumberland County Farm Bureau. “It is an opportunity for all farmers to bring their thoughts, ideas and frustrations to the table and create an understanding of what is needed to ensure the profitability and viability of Maine’s farms.”

Farmers can attend an upcoming session to share their thoughts about what they need to strengthen their farm business and grow Maine agriculture. Local refreshments will be provided and RSVPs are appreciated: maineagneeds@gmail.com

 

Sessions will be held at the following Cooperative Extension Offices:

SKOWHEGAN, Nov 27, 10am-12pm, 7 County Dr.

ELLSWORTH, Nov 30, 9:30-11:30am, 63 Boggy Brook Rd.

LISBON FALLS, Dec 6, 9:30-11:30am, 24 Main St.

FALMOUTH, Dec 11, 3-5pm, 75 Clearwater Dr.

PRESQUE ISLE, Jan 8, 10am-12pm (Snow Date Jan 15, 10am-12pm), 57 Houlton Rd.

WALDOBORO, Jan 10, 10am-12pm (Snow Date Jan 30, 10am-12pm), 377 Manktown Rd.

At the Agricultural Trades Show

Maine Agricultural Trades Show, Jan. 16, 5-6pm and Jan. 17, 10-11:30am, 76 Community Dr., Augusta

Remote Option

Webinar, Nov 27, 7-8pm – must RSVP for link to join.

 

This effort is being coordinated by: AGCOMCEICooperative Extension, MFT, Maine Food StrategyMOFGA, and Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society. Visit sites.google.com/view/maineagneeds or email maineagneeds@gmail.com for more information about a webinar and online survey.

Conservation Public Listening Sessions

On October 16th and 18th, MFT staff, Board members, and supporters spoke out about the importance of farmland protection in Maine at public listening sessions held in Portland and Bangor. The listening sessions were organized by the Task Force to Shape the Next Generation of Maine Land Conservation, which is a group of twenty diverse individuals and organizations that was formed to evaluate land conservation efforts in Maine and make related policy and programmatic recommendations. During the discussion, important points were raised about the threat to farmland from development pressure and succession issues, the importance of farmland protection to support the agricultural economy in Maine, and the need for increased funding for and administrative changes to the Land for Maine’s Future Program to make the Program work better for farmland protection. The Task Force is in the process of developing a set of findings and recommendations that can serve as a blueprint for future land conservation initiatives.

If you were not able to attend one of the public listening sessions, you can still share your thoughts HERE.

Congress Must Pass a Full Extension of the Current Farm Bill until a New Farm Bill is Enacted

Farmers and communities across Maine and the rest of the country have been waiting on Congress to pass a new farm bill. This bill is the vehicle that provides funding for farmland protection and access, development of local and regional food economies, agricultural research, rural economic development, beginning farmers, and more. More information about MFT’s priorities for the 2018 farm bill can be found HERE.

Unfortunately, the wait continues. Congress did not pass the 2018 farm bill before the current law expired on September 30th. They must now pass an extension of the current law until a new farm bill can be enacted.

But until that happens, nearly 20 of the programs that Maine farmers and others rely on to grow our agricultural economy and protect important farm resources will either cease to operate or have their funding frozen. These programs include:

Please contact Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, Congressman Bruce Poliquin, Senator Susan Collins, and Senator Angus King and tell them we need a full extension of the current farm bill to keep vital services working.

Don’t let Congress leave farmers and their communities behind!

Policy teach-in at the Common Ground Country Fair

On Saturday, September 22nd, MFT’s Policy and Research Director, Ellen Stern Griswold, participated in a policy teach-in at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA)’s Common Ground Country Fair. The policy roundtable, which MFT co-sponsored with MFOGA, focused on the policy changes needed to better support agriculture in Maine and to grow the agricultural economy.

During the roundtable, Ellen discussed the process that has been underway for the last year to create an Initial Agriculture Policy Platform, as well as the outreach effort that is being planned to farmers and other agriculture stakeholders to get feedback on the Platform and to refine the document before sharing it with the next state administration. This outreach effort will include facilitated in-person meetings across the state, webinars, and online and paper surveys.

Other roundtable participants included Penny Jordan of Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth and President of the Maine Farm Bureau, who discussed the policy changes that are needed to enhance farmer profitability; Ben Whalen, co-owner of Bumbleroot Organic Farm in Windham and a member of the Southern Maine Young Farmers Coalition, who discussed the challenges and opportunities facing the next generation of farmers in Maine; and Jim Gerritsen of Wood Prairie Family Farm in Bridgewater and President of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, who discussed the federal policy changes that are needed to better support family farmers in Maine. Heather Spalding, MOFGA’s Deputy Director, moderated the discussion.

Join the MFT Policy List to receive updates about our policy work and action alerts about how

you can help shape food and agriculture policy.

As dairy farms struggle, organizations and farmers collaborate to find alternate solutions through new feasibility study

At a time when dairy farmers in Maine and across the country are facing numerous challenges affecting the milk market and resulting in low prices to producers, multiple Maine organizations have joined with Maine organic dairy farmers to investigate alternative market opportunities. A Local Foods & Farmers Market Promotion Program (LFPP) grant from the USDA was recently awarded to MFT, written in collaboration with the Maine Organic Milk Producers, Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association, Coastal Enterprises, Inc., and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, to execute a feasibility study to determine whether in-state processing could enable better market stability for organic dairy farmers. This successful proposal was also bolstered by support from the Maine Dairy Industry Association, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, Maine Farm Bureau, Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment, and the Congressional offices of Sen. Collins, Sen. King, Rep. Poliquin, and Rep. Pingree.

“Dairy farms play a keystone role in Maine’s farm and food economy,” said Amanda Beal, President and CEO of Maine Farmland Trust. “This feasibility study has the potential to benefit all dairy farms in Maine, as losing even one dairy farm can have a sizable impact on the agricultural sector and economy, and we know that having multiple market options increases the resiliency of these farm businesses.”

Milk produced by the dairy sector represents Maine’s second most valuable agricultural product; sales value reached nearly $125 million in 2017. All of Maine’s dairy farmers face challenges due to existing political and market forces, which MFT and other partner organizations actively work to address on an ongoing basis through state and federal policy.

However, certified organic farms, which account for nearly one-third of Maine’s dairy farms, face additional challenges as Maine lacks in-state processing infrastructure for their milk.  While the organic market was once relatively resistant to the fluctuating price, supply, and sales of milk and milk products, this is no longer the case.  Adding to the unease for organic producers is the fact that all bulk organic milk produced in Maine is shipped out of state for processing.  This creates a dependence on processors operating in the national milk market, who can get milk elsewhere. This dynamic recently resulted in several organic farmers losing their contracts with an out-of-state processor.

The feasibility study will examine the current needs of Maine organic dairy farms, estimate market-size for in-state processing infrastructure, evaluate various business models and run financial analysis to determine the viability of business models. The study will draw from the experience of MOOMilk, an in-state organic processor that closed in 2014. While many factors contributed to MOOMilk’s closing, the processor’s sales showed strong consumer support for a Maine organic dairy brand.

“Exploring the idea of in-state processing is so exciting for those of us currently in the organic dairy industry,” said Annie Watson, co-owner and farmer at Sheepscot Valley Farm in Whitefield. “This is an opportunity to take an in-depth look at the current landscape of Maine organic dairy. If there is a market for our product on its own label, or in conjunction with a larger processor, we owe it to the future of dairy in our state to seriously consider the possibilities.”

Due to the urgency of the current dairy crisis, partnering organizations plan to finish the study within six to seven months, in hopes to inform some near-term action to expand in-state processing opportunities for our dairy farms.

Our Priorities for the Final Farm Bill

Time is running out for Congress to pass a new farm bill. The current farm bill, which was passed in 2014, expires on September 30, 2018. Both the House and the Senate have passed their own versions of a new farm bill. A conference committee, which includes leadership from both Agriculture Committees as well as other House and Senate members, has been formed to work out the differences between the two bills. If the conference committee is unable to produce a reconciled bill by the September 30th deadline, an extension of the current farm bill will need to be obtained to ensure that programs vital to farmers in Maine and across the country continue to operate while the new farm bill is negotiated.

Both the House and Senate farm bills contain important funding increases for the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) and the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives Program (FINI), as described below. Overall, though, the bipartisan Senate bill does more for agriculture in Maine by protecting important farm resources, helping Maine farmers grow their businesses, and supporting the next generation of farmers. In contrast, the partisan House bill guts programs that are vital to farmers and rural communities in Maine and eliminates critical funding for conservation programs. More specific information about the House and Senate bills can be found HERE and HERE.

As the conference committee works to reconcile these two bills, MFT has reached out to our congressional delegation and urged them to work with the conference committee to ensure that the following priorities are included in the final bill:

1. Maintain both the Senate and House farm bills’ increases in funding for ACEP-ALE to support the placement of agricultural easements in Maine that protect farmland and make land more affordable for the next generation of farmers.

  • Senate farm bill: authorizes $400 million/year in FY19-21; $425 million in FY22; and $450 million/year by FY23.
  • House farm bill: authorizes $500 million/year in funding.

2. Maintain the Senate farm bill’s increase in funding for the development of local and regional food economies through the establishment of the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP).

  • Senate farm bill:combines the Value-Added Producer Grant Program (VAPG) with the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) and a regional public-private partnership to support and encourage investment in regional food economies, and provides $60 million/year in mandatory funding.
  • House farm bill: does not create a combined program and does not provide any mandatory funding for VAPG or FMLFPP.

3. Maintain the Senate farm bill’s increase in funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), which provides competitive grants to academic institutions, state extension services, producer groups, and community organizations to support and train new farmers and ranchers.

4. Reduce funding cuts to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) so that farmers have the necessary support to address natural resources concerns on their property while keeping their land in production.

  • Senate farm bill: reduces funding for EQIP and CSP by $2.5 billion over 10 years, but maintains overall funding levels for the Conservation Title.
  • House farm bill: eliminates CSP, cuts total funding for the Conservation Title by $1 billion, and reduces funding for working lands conservation programs by $5 billion over 10 years.

5. Maintain the Senate and House farm bills’ increase in funding for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program to increase access to local fresh fruits and vegetables for SNAP recipients, and expand markets for farmers.

  • Senate farm bill: reauthorizes the program and provides $50 million per year in mandatory permanent baseline funding.
  • House farm bill:reauthorizes the program and provides $275 million over 5 years in permanent baseline funding.

6. Maintain the Senate farm bill’s Buy-Protect-Sell provision so that lands trusts can act quickly using ACEP-ALE dollars to protect vulnerable farmland and then sell the land to a farmer.

  • Senate farm bill: contains a Buy-Protect-Sell provision.
  • House farm bill:does not contain a Buy-Protect-Sell provision.

7. Maintain the Senate farm bill’s increase in funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), which supports research projects that address the most critical challenges facing organic farmers.

  • Senate farm bill: increases funding to $50 million/year in permanent baseline funding by 2022.
  • House farm bill:increases funding to $30 million/year in mandatory funding.

8. Maintain the Senate farm bill’s increases in funding levels for Farm Service Agency (FSA) direct and guaranteed loans.

  • Senate farm bill: increases funding to at least $2 billion for direct loans and $4 billion for guaranteed loans.
  • House farm bill:does not increase funding.

 

Many of these important provisions are taken from legislation that was sponsored by Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and Maine Senator Susan Collins. We urge you to reach out to all of Maine’s congressional delegation, including Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, Congressman Bruce Poliquin, Senator Susan Collins, and Senator Angus King, and let them know why these programs are important to you and to farmers generally in Maine.

Let's grow a bright future for farming in Maine, together.

Andrew Marshall joins MFT as the next Wang Food and Farming Fellow

Andrew Marshall of Montville, Maine has been selected by MFT to serve as its next Wang Food and Farming Fellow.

As a Fellow, Marshall will work for a year at the Trust conducting research activities to inform an understanding of best practices in farmland reclamation, as well as investigating varied, innovative strategies for protecting farmland from development. In this role, he will also serve as a resource for research that supports the overall effectiveness of MFT’s programs, with a particular focus on working to enhance opportunities for farmer engagement in designing research activities and priorities.

Marshall received his BA from Bowdoin College and earned his MA from the University of Santa Cruz.  Since then, Marshall has taught sustainable agriculture courses as adjunct faculty at Unity College, Kennebec Valley Community College, and he continues to teach at Colby College. In addition, Marshall has worked most recently for Land for Good as their Education and Field Director, and prior to that, as the Education Programs Director at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. Meanwhile, Marshall and his family have operated Dorelenna Farm since 2007, where they raise mixed vegetables and chickens for many local markets and restaurants.

Marshall has also served on numerous boards and committees related to agriculture and conservation over the years, including the Wellspring Council and Conservation Committee,  Waldo County Extension Association, and Northeast On-Farm Mentors Network.

MFT created the Fellowship in honor of David and Cecile Wang. The Wangs have provided critical support and trusted guidance to MFT over many years. The Wangs also have a long history of supporting organizational innovation, including their pivotal role in supporting the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which has effectively advocated for fair wages and better working conditions for farmworkers over the past two decades.

Marshall’s appointment follows Ellen Stern Griswold, JD, LL.M. of Portland, Maine who was MFT’s inaugural Wang Food and Farming Fellow, and now serves as the organization’s Policy and Research Director.

Let's grow a bright future for farming in Maine, together.

PITCH IN for policy & advocacy

This is a big year for agricultural policy in Maine. In just four months, Mainers will be heading back to the polls to elect our next governor – a governor who will have a significant impact on agriculture in Maine. This year Congress is also drafting the farm bill, the federal government’s primary food and ag legislation that is passed about every five years. While MFT has always worked to keep our finger on the pulse on the policies that affect Maine farms, we are doubling our efforts this year and charting a bold new course for agricultural policy both within the gubernatorial campaign and in Congress.

Over the past eight months, MFT, along with farmers and several Maine-based organizations, have been working together to create an Agriculture Policy Platform to help inform Maine’s 2018 gubernatorial race. The Platform outlines the policy objectives that the next administration should endorse to promote a more economically viable, environmentally conscious, resilient, and equitable agricultural system in Maine.

The Platform aims to spark discussion with and among gubernatorial candidates, to increase attention to food and agriculture issues during the 2018 campaign, and to inform the next administration’s strategies for supporting farmers and ensuring a robust future for agriculture in our state. We will be helping to organize a robust outreach effort to obtain in-person and online feedback on the Platform from farmers and other agricultural stakeholders across the state. Following that effort, a more detailed Platform will be made available to guide the next state administration.

On the federal level, we have also been reaching out to Maine’s members of Congress to advocate for farm bill policies that help to protect farmland in Maine, keep farmers economically viable, grow the local and regional food economies, help farmers steward the natural resources on their property, and support the next generation of farmers. We partnered with several organizations to provide a farm bill advocacy training for farmers so that they can share with members of Congress the importance of different farm bill programs for their businesses.    

If you recognize the enormous economic potential of Maine agriculture, and want strong leadership and understanding from our next governor and a farm bill that works for Maine agriculture, we’d love your support!  

Sign up here for updates on how to get involved! Help us continue to advocate for Maine’s farmers & working landscapes.

Let's grow a bright future for farming in Maine, together.