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Policy Update: State Legislative Priorities

By: Ellen Stern Griswold, MFT’s Policy & Research Director

The new legislative session began this month, and I wanted to share some of the state policy priorities MFT will be working on this session. Not all of the bills have been given LD numbers yet, but I have included them if they have been assigned.

  • Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) Program: The LMF Program is Maine’s primary funding vehicle for conserving land, including agricultural lands. MFT will be supporting several bills related to the LMF Program, including:
    • LMF Bonds: Two bills to establish a new bond for the LMF Program.
    • LMF Program Changes: Two bills introduced by the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) that make changes to the LMF Program:
      • One bill would create a Maine Working Farmland Access and Protection Program at DACF to coordinate with the LMF Program, and would establish a Maine Working Farmland Protection and Access Fund within the LMF Program to designate specific funding for farmland protection projects. This structure is modeled on the Working Waterfront Access Protection Program and Fund.
      • The other bill (LD 65) would allow a small portion of LMF bond funds to be used to fund minor capital investments in the stewardship and management of properties protected with LMF funds.
  • Solar Siting on Farmland
    • Solar Siting Stakeholder Group: Ellen Griswold will be participating in a solar siting stakeholder group this year that will include certain members of the Maine Climate Council’s Natural and Working Lands Working Group, along with some solar developers and municipal representatives, to develop recommendations to incentivize the siting of solar energy projects so as to minimize impacts on farmland, forests, and natural habitats.
    • Ellen Griswold worked with Rep. Seth Berry and Rep. Bill Pluecker to submit a bill this session that will be carried over until the 2022 legislative session and will be used as the vehicle to enact any of the recommendations that come out of the stakeholder process that require legislative approval.
    • Solar Energy Procurement Bill: There will also be a bill to establish a new solicitation for solar energy projects this session, and MFT will be working with partners to include language that requires projects to be assessed based not only on ratepayer benefits, but also on whether the projects avoid or minimize agricultural and natural resources impacts.
  • Healthy Soils Program: Ellen Griswold has been working with Senator Stacy Brenner, MOFGA, and the Sierra Club on a bill to establish a Healthy Soils Program at the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
    • The Program would create a one-stop shop for farmers about information related to healthy soils practices, including information about how to use these practices, technical assistance services provided by both governmental and non-governmental entities, information about farmers who are using these practices successfully to facilitate farmer to farmer education, and information about funding opportunities to support the use of these practices.
    • The Program would have a fund associated with it that would hopefully receive state funding in future years, but in the interim could be a depository for any federal or philanthropic funding.
    • Farmer Advisory Group on Climate: Ellen Griswold and Ellen Sabina will be partnering with a group of farmers on advocacy and outreach activities related to the Healthy Soils Program bill, along with other efforts to support the use of climate smart agriculture practices. This group of farmers includes dairy farmer Jenni Tilton-Flood of Flood Brothers Farm in Clinton, ME; organic diversified vegetable grower Nate Drummond of Six River Farm in Bowdoinham, ME; potato farmer Jay LaJoie of LaJoie Growers in Van Buren, ME; diversified vegetable, fruit, and fish farmer Cara O’Donnell of Micmac Farms in Caribou, ME; and organic wild blueberry farmer Gail VanWart of Peaked Mountain Farm in Dedham, ME.
  • Broadband Bond: MFT will be supporting a bill to establish a bond for broadband development. MFT began supporting broadband expansion legislation during the last Legislature when it became clear that the lack of access to reliable, high-speed Internet service in Maine remains a significant challenge for many farmers across the state, preventing them from growing and diversifying their businesses. The coronavirus pandemic has only highlighted the critical importance of high-speed Internet for many Maine farm businesses.
  • Other Potential Bills: MFT is also engaging with partners about support for a value-added infrastructure assessment and investment bill and a bill to establish a state nutrition incentive fund.

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