Category Archives: Policy

Action Alert: Contact your Legislator: Support LD 920, the Local Food Access Bill

Nutrition incentive programs in Maine like MFT’s  Farm Fresh Rewards and Maine Federation of Farmers’ Market’s Maine Harvest Bucks are a win for both low-income shoppers and farmers. LD 920 would provide state funding for these programs to avoid funding gaps, leverage more federal dollars, and support administrative and outreach efforts to expand these programs, especially in rural areas.
LD 920 will soon be voted on by the Maine Legislature. Please contact your legislator today and let them know:
  • You hope they will Vote Yes on LD 920.
  • Nutrition incentive programs increase access to local and healthy foods by providing low-income shoppers with additional money to buy more local fruits and vegetables.
  • These programs contribute to the economic success of farms in Maine by helping them gain new customers, build sales, and keep more dollars in Maine’s food economy.
  • Maine should support these programs financially so that they continue to thrive and expand across the state.

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Results of 2017 Ag Census Concerning for Maine Farms and Farmland

Last week, the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) of the USDA released the 2017 Census of Agriculture. The Census is conducted every five years, and provides national, state, and county-level agricultural data that informs many federal farm programs, policies, and funding decisions. Maine’s Census Report contains some very alarming facts about the loss of farmland and farms in our state, although there is some more positive news about farmer demographics, local food sales, and organic agriculture.

According to the 2017 Census, Maine has lost a significant amount of farmland in the last five years.

  • In 2012, Maine had 1,454,104 acres in farmland, but by 2017 that number had dropped to 1,307,566 acres – a loss of 146,491 acres or 10% of Maine’s farmland.
  • In fact, according to American Farmland Trust, Maine was in the top five states with declines in farmland between 2012 and 2017.

Our losses in farmland were coupled with an equally troubling loss of farms.

  • Maine has lost 573 farms since the Census was last conducted, going from 8,173 farms in 2012 to 7600 farms in 2017.
  • Farms disappeared in every size category except for small farms (1 to 9 acres), which went from 1,239 farms in 2012 to 1,427 farms in 2017, and the largest farms (2,000 acres or more), which went from 55 farms in 2012 to 70 farms in 2017.

The new Census data also reflects the difficult economic conditions many farmers face in Maine and across the Nation.

  • The total and average per farm market value of agricultural products both decreased during the last five years. The total market value went from $763,062,000 in 2012 to $666,962,000 in 2017 (a decline of 12.6%), while the average per farm market value of agricultural products decreased from $93,364 in 2012 to $87,758 in 2017 (a decline of 6%).
  • In addition, farmers in Maine lost income over this period. Average net income per farm decreased from $20,141 in 2012 to $16,958 in 2017 (a decline of 15.8%), and average net income for producers declined from $19,953 in 2012 to $16,894 in 2017 (a decline of 15.3%).
  • Interestingly, total farm production expenses decreased from $645,631,100 in 2012 to $586,564,000 in 2017 (a decrease of 9%, which could be explained in part by the number of farms that were lost), and average production expenses decreased slightly from $78,996 in 2012 to $77,179 in 2017 (a decrease of 2.3%).

The numbers are clear — now’s the time to step up and support a future for farming in Maine.

It’s not all bad news. There are some positive trends identified by the Census, including farmer demographic statistics. The 2017 Census made some significant changes to the way it collected demographic data to better represent the individuals making decisions about a farming operation. As such, the Census collected information on up to four producers per farm. This change not only provides us more robust demographic data on producers, but it also counts more farmers in Maine. Here are some of the most significant demographic changes, although it is important to note that some of these changes could just reflect the change in data collection processes.

  • The total number of producers increased from 13,168 in 2012 to 13,414 in 2017, and the total number of principal producers increased from 8,173 in 2012 to 10,705.
  • The total number of women producers increased from 5,398 in 2012 to 5,859 in 2017, and the total number of women principal producers increased from 2,381 in 2012 to 4,265 in 2017.
  • The average age of a farmer in Maine did increase, going from 55.1 in 2012 to 56.5 in 2017, while the average age of a principal producer increased slightly from 57 in 2012 to 57.4 in 2017.
  • The Census did show that there are both more younger farmers and more younger farmers involved in the management of farms in Maine, although again it is unclear the extent to which those differences reflect just the changes to data collection.
    • The numbers of producers age 25 to 34 increased going from 1005 in 2012 to 1068 in 2017, and the number of producers age 35 to 44 increased as well, going from 1,562 in 2012 to 1,780 in 2017.
    • The number of primary producers under age 25 increased from 62 in 2012 to 72 in 2017.
    • The number of primary producers age 25 to 34 increased from 488 in 2012 to 731 in 2017.
    • The number of primary producers age 35 to 44 increased from 834 in 2012 to 1400 in 2017.
  • The number of older farmers in Maine and the number of older farmers involved in the management of farms in Maine also increased.
    • The number of producers age 65 to 74 increased, going from 2,346 producers in 2012 to 2,977 producers in 2017.
    • The number of farmers age 75 and older also increased, going from 920 producers in 2012 to 1,270 in 2017.
    • The number of primary producers age 65 to 74 increased, going from 1,652 in 2012 to 2,481 in 2017.
    • The number of primary producers age 75 and older also increased, going from 715 in 2012 to 1,105 in 2017.

While the number of farmers under 44 increased by 9.6 %, the number of farmers age 65 and older increased by 30 %, signaling an urgent need for succession and retirement planning.

There were some very positive trends in both local food production and organic operations.

  • The value of food sold directly to consumers increased from $24,793,000 in 2012 to $37,868,000 in 2017 (an increase of almost 53%).
  • In addition, $74,513,000 of food was sold locally via retail markets, institutions, and local food hubs in 2017.
  • Total organic product sales increased significantly during the last five years, going from $36,401,000 in 2012 to $60,027,000 in 2017 (an increase of almost 65%).
  • As a result, the average per farm organic product sales also makes a huge leap, going from $65,706 in 2012 to $108,744 (an increase of 65.5%).

 

Despite some of these positive demographic and local and organic food production trends, the loss of farms and the loss of farmland during the last five years reflects the significant challenges facing our agriculture sector. We can help to shift these trends by protecting farmland – providing the land base to grow the agricultural economy in Maine – and providing farmers with the critical resources they need for economically viable businesses and successful succession plans. 

Now more than ever, we need your help to make sure Maine farms succeed.  Will you step up to support a future for farming in Maine?

 

 

Windham Organic Farmer Joins National Fly-In to Protect Farm Program Funding

The below press release was written by the National Sustainable Agricultural Coalition (NSAC). MFT is a member of NSAC, an alliance of grassroots organizations that advocates for federal policy reform to advance the sustainability of agriculture, food systems, natural resources, and rural communities.

 

Melissa Law of Bumbleroot Organic Farm asks congressional appropriators to support conservation, local/regional food, and beginning farmer programs that help producers thrive.

Washington, D.C., March 28, 2019 – Beginning farmer Melissa Law, in partnership with fellow owner/operators Ben Whalen and Jeff and Abby Fisher, are now entering their fifth growing season at Bumbleroot Organic Farm. By leveraging support from farm bill programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), and Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, Law has been able to enhance Bumbleroot’s production of organic vegetables, flowers, and herbs by increasing both sustainability and profitability. This week, Law joined eleven other farmers and advocates from across the country in the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s (NSAC) farmer fly-in event in Washington, D.C.

“If our representatives in D.C. don’t understand the positive impact these programs have for farmers, then they won’t support them,” said Law. “And if they don’t support programs that train beginning farmers and help us build viable businesses, then our food system will be in jeopardy. I came to D.C. as part of this farmer fly-in event because I wanted my representatives to meet someone who benefits from these programs, I wanted to be able to tell my story face-to-face.”

In 2014, Law and her husband moved to Buxton, Maine to join Jeff and Abby in starting Bumbleroot Organic Farm. Together, the team grew vegetables and flowers on their small plot of land for two years. In 2016, the four were able to purchase an 89-acre farm in Windham, where they grow a wide variety of organic products.

“We moved to Maine to start the farm and be closer to family, but also because we heard that there are many great service providers in Maine and that the State has a strong agricultural community,” said Law. “I’m glad to say that the rumors were definitely true, and we’ve been supported so many Maine organizations, including Maine Farmland Trust, from whom we purchased our land, Coastal Enterprises Inc, which helped with the financing, and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), who is our organic certifier and has provided countless educational opportunities for us and our peers.”

To learn the skills and access the resources they needed to get their farm started, Law and her partners took part in MOFGA’s Journeyperson and Farm Beginnings programs. The training programs were both made possible thanks to support from BFRDP, and taught Bumbleroot’s owners how to approach the business aspects of being a farmer and how to make a holistic plan that worked for their families and their values.

“Those programs were really important for us because none of us came to farming with a background in business,” said Law. “We learned how to make our farm into a sustainable business enterprise that would be able to support our families.”

Bumbleroot Organic Farm has also utilized the EQIP program to build high tunnels and extend their growing season – which is crucial for a farm that does most of its business through local and direct marketing channels – and is participating in a SARE grant project trialing cover cropping and tarping techniques.

“Our mission is to connect people with the land and food that sustains them,” said Law. “Our goal is to feed our community, and these farm bill programs help us to do that.”

With the 2018 Farm Bill signed into law in December of 2018, farmers and food/farm advocates are now turning their attention to the farm bill’s implementation phase, and to the annual appropriations process. While many farm bill programs receive mandatory funding through the legislative process, those programs can also receive additional discretionary funding through the annual appropriations process. For FY 2020, Law and NSAC asked congressional appropriators to support the following:

  • Protect vital conservation programs: NSAC urges Congress to make NO cuts to mandatory funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), or other USDA conservation programs.
  • Provide $10 million for the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) program, which houses the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program.
  • Increase funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension (SARE) program to $45 million.

“America’s family farmers made many of the historic victories of the 2018 Farm Bill possible,” said NSAC Interim Policy Director Juli Obudzinski. “Through all the delays and setbacks, they stuck with us and continued fighting for the programs and policies that matter to them, and now they’re continuing that advocacy into the appropriations process. We’re grateful to have had Melissa and our eleven other farmers and food advocates join us this week in asking Congress to build upon the success of the 2018 Farm Bill, and ensure that critical food and farm programs receive the funding they need to succeed.”

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.