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Maine Farmland Trust reaches 30,000 acre milestone

Maine Farmland Trust recently announced the progress being made toward its goal to protect 100,000 acres of Maine farmland and provide support to more than 1,000 Maine farmers by the end of 2014.

Speaking at the annual Agricultural Trade Show at the Augusta Civic Center, Maine Farmland Trust’s executive director, John Piotti, summarized how Maine’s agricultural sector is poised for a bright future, provided that we take the right steps in the next few years. Piotti then described some of what his organization is doing to support farmers.

"We’ve now worked with over 350 farmers and helped protect 30,000 acres of Maine farmland," said Piotti. "We’re making a real difference," he said in a news release.

Piotti was joined at the podium by Walt Whitcomb, Maine’s Commissioner of Agriculture, and by two farmers, Walter Fletcher of Pittsfield and Adrienne Lee of Knox.

Also speaking was Taylor Mudge, a former farmer and founder of the State of Maine Cheese Company. Mudge is leading the fundraising component of the Trust’s campaign to "Secure a Future for Farming."

Fletcher, a dairy farmer, talked about how Maine Farmland Trust was there to support his farm at a critical time. An abutting farm of about 200 acres had come on the market, and Fletcher wanted to buy about half of that land, because he needed more land for his own operation. But he couldn’t afford to pay top dollar or buy it all.

That’s where Maine Farmland Trust came in. It purchased the entire farm, selling half the land to Fletcher and the other half to a new farmer who only needed that much. The trust protected both parcels with agricultural easements before re-selling them, ensuring that they will always be available for farming use.

"That’s the kind of thing we can do," said Piotti. "In this case, we permanently protected a good piece of farmland that could have easily been lost to farming, while supporting a existing dairy farm and helping get a new farm started," he said.

Fletcher was so impressed with Maine Farmland Trust that he later joined the board of directors.

Maine Farmland Trust’s goal to protect 100,000 acres stems from the fact that the ownership of so much of Maine’s farmland will change hands in the next few years, given the age of the landowners. According to Mudge, much of this land will likely transition to non-farm uses if Maine Farmland Trust does not provide more support to farmers.

"Protecting good land with an agricultural easement is one way we support farmers, because farmers can often only afford to buy land if it is protected land," said Mudge.

Mudge estimates that protecting 100,000 acres will cost $50 million. "That may sound like a big number, but the economic impact from that 100,000 acres is expected to exceed $50 million each year-so this is really a good investment," said Mudge.

Maine Farmland Trust has set an initial goal of raising $10 million, which is then expected to leverage an additional $40 million. According to Mudge, it’s the first $10 million which is most critical. To date, the trust has raised $7.1 million.

Maine Farmland Trust uses these funds to do far more than land protection, said Piotti. The Trust is increasingly providing farmers with other services designed to help them succeed, including support for business planning.

"We’re committed to doing everything we can to help farmers," said Piotti.

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