Tag Archives: farmland access

Healthy Soils, Healthy Farms: farm tour & policy update

Tour Stonyvale Farm  with farmer Bob Fogler and Ellen Mallory of UMaine Cooperative Extension to learn how farmers are building healthy soils that benefit both the climate and farm profitability.

Hear from MFT & Maine Conservation Voters about policy initiatives that can foster healthy soils practices on farms, and how you can help shape policies that are good for farms and good for the environment.

Free & Open to All. Dress for a farm tour (sensible footwear, layers).

 

Please RSVP to ellen@mainefarmlandtrust.org by May 9.

House Agriculture Committee Farm Bill is a Mixed Bag for Maine Farmers

On Thursday, April 12th, the House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway (R-TX) introduced his draft of the 2018 Farm Bill, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2). On Wednesday, April 18th, the Committee voted the bill out of Committee on a strictly party-line vote (26-20). The full House of Representatives is expected to vote on the bill in May. This bill is very much a mixed bag for farmers in Maine. Although it contains some important provisions for farmland conservation, beginning farmers, food access, and organic research, it either eliminates mandatory funding, does not increase funding, or makes problematic administrative changes to many programs that are vital to Maine farmers.

 

Funding for Farmland Conservation

Good:

  • Restores $500 million in mandatory funding for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), which provides funding for easements on agricultural land.
  • Makes some administrative changes to ACEP that will make the program easier to use for farmers and conservation organizations.
  • Increases baseline funding for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), which provides funding for conservation activities through public-private partnerships.

Problematic:

  • Cuts funding for working lands conservation programs by nearly $5 billion over 10 years.
  • Eliminates the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which provides farmers with comprehensive support to address natural resources concerns on their property while keeping their land in production. Replaces CSP with Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) stewardship contracts that do not have the core features of CSP and will not have an equal amount of funding.
  • Allows 100% forested land to be eligible for ACEP, diluting the funding available for easements on working farms.

 

Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers

Good:

  • Reauthorizes and continues existing mandatory funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), which provides competitively awarded grants to academic institutions, state extension services, producer groups, and community organizations to support and train new farmers and ranchers.
  • Expands the focus of BFRDP to include food safety training, land access, and succession planning.
  • Includes a new Farmland Tenure, Transition, and Entry Data Initiative to collect important data on farmland ownership, tenure, transition, barriers to entry, profitability and viability of beginning farmers in order to improve policymaking and analysis.
  • Reauthorizes and maintains level funding for the Transition Incentives Program (CRP-TIP) to help facilitate the transition of farmland coming out of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to the next generation of farmers. But it does not make needed administrative changes to improve the effectiveness of the program.

Problematic:

  • Farm Service Agency (FSA) guaranteed operating loan limits are increased without increasing overall program funding, thereby decreasing the opportunity for small-scale and beginning farmers to access loans.
  • No increases to FSA direct farm ownership loan limits.

 

Local and Regional Food Systems and Rural Development

Good:

  • Increases mandatory funding to $275 million over 5 years for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives Program (FINI), which provides competitive grants to projects that help low-income consumers participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) purchase more fresh fruits and vegetables through incentives.

Problematic:

  • Provides no mandatory funding for the Food Safety Outreach Program (FSOP), which is a competitive grant program to help farmers and processors comply with new food safety requirements.
  • Provides no mandatory funding for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP), which is a competitive grant program that funds direct-to-consumer marketing strategies as well as local and regional food business enterprises.
  • Provides no mandatory funding for the Value-Added Producer Grant Program (VAPG), which provides competitively awarded grants to producers to create or develop value-added producer-owned businesses.
  • Eliminates the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP), which helps small and mid-sized organic farm businesses afford annual certification costs.

 

Research

Good:

  • Provides a $10 million increase in mandatory funding for the Organic Agriculture Research & Extension Initiative (OREI), which supports research projects that address the most critical challenges that organic farmers face.

Problematic:

  • Reauthorizes the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE), which provides funding for farmer-driven research, but provides no increases in funding.
  • Reauthorizes the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), which provides competitive grants to researchers to solve pressing challenges facing farmers and society, but provides no increases in funding.
  • Reauthorizes the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI), which provides competitive grants for regional and multi-state projects that conduct research related to specialty crops, but provides no increases in funding.

 

Although there are many aspects of this bill that need to be improved for the benefit of Maine farmers, the vote by the House Agriculture Committee is just the first step. The full House of Representatives is supposed to vote on the bill in May. We urge you to contact your representative, either Congresswoman Chellie Pingree or Congressman Bruce Poliquin, to make your voice heard about this bill.

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

‘Growing Local’ screening on Earth Day in Bethel

Come celebrate Earth Day at the Gem Theater! There will be a Potluck at 3:30pm, followed by showings at 4:30pm of farm-friendly films including:

  • ‘Growing Local’: While “buying local” is on the rise, the stories in Growing Local make clear that small farms and access to locally produced food is not a sure thing. These three poignant stories help us understand the interconnected fates of Maine’s small farms, consumers and the local food movement. Growing Local was directed and produced by Bridget Besaw of Seedlight Pictures.
  • ‘Farms of Western Maine: Moon Dance Farm’, which was created by junior high students at The Eddy School.
  • Alan Day Community Garden will show a short film about their Youth Leadership Program.
  • Center For an Ecology Based Economy (CEBE) in Norway will show a short film about their food festival.

After these films, we will have Q&A with representatives of all of those organizations, including MFT’s Chris Franklin.

 

Maine FarmLink Mixer and Potluck

York County Land Owners (YCFN) and Seekers Unite!

FarmLink Mixer and Potluck, co-sponsored by YCFN and MFT

When: April 11, 2018 • 5:30 pm, potluck dinner; 6:30 pm, meeting

Where: Extension office building, 21 Bradeen St., Nasson Heritage Room, Springvale, ME 04083

Cost: Free, potluck items welcomed; beverages provided.

MFT staff will explain the FarmLink program and related programs for sellers and buyers of Maine farmland. Questions encouraged! Discuss & socialize with FarmLink staff and each other at this Spring event.

For more information on the event or the FarmLink program, contact Sue Lanpher at Maine FarmLink, info@mainefarmlink.org, or 207-338-6575.

In case of inclement weather, check cancellations at News Center Maine (WCSH6).

Questions? Contact: Frank Wertheim (frank.wertheim@maine.edu) or Becky Gowdy (rebecca.gowdy@maine.edu) at UMaine Extension, 207-324-2814.

Garlic Planting

Government Spending Package Contains Important Funding for Maine Farms

On March 23, 2018, the President signed a government spending package (the “omnibus appropriations bill”) to fund federal programs through September 30, 2018. The bill divides up the $2 billion in increased agricultural funding that was obtained through the budget deal reached by Congress in February. This increased funding provides much-needed investment in rural infrastructure, farm conservation, sustainable agriculture research, rural business development, outreach and technical assistance, food safety training, and farm credit programs. Specifically, the omnibus appropriations bill provides the following for agriculture and rural development programs:

 

 

Because the Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations process was so late, the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees in both the House and the Senate are currently receiving appropriations requests for their Fiscal Year 2019 bills. In Maine, we are lucky to have representatives on both of those committees – Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and Senator Susan Collins. Now is a great time to reach out to both of them and let them know the importance of having sufficient funding for the programs that are vital to Maine farms.

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

MFT on the Hill

On January 21-24, Amanda Beal, President and CEO of MFT, and Ellen Griswold, MFT’s Policy and Research Director, attended the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)’s winter meeting in Washington, D.C. NSAC is an alliance of grassroots organizations that advocates for federal policy reform to advance the sustainability of agriculture, food systems, natural resources, and rural communities. At the meeting, MFT participated in numerous discussions focused on ensuring that the policies needed to support farmers and the agricultural sector in Maine are included in the next farm bill.

 

The highlight of Amanda and Ellen’s time in D.C. was meeting with Senator Susan Collins and the staff of Representative Chellie Pingree, Representative Bruce Poliquin, and Senator Angus King, along with Heather Spalding of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). During these meetings, they discussed the issues facing farmers and the agricultural sector in Maine, as well as the importance of certain farmland protection, market development, beginning farmer, and organic cost-share and research policies. After we returned to Maine, MFT was thrilled to hear that Senator Collins had decided to co-sponsor the Local FARMS Act. To learn more about the Local FARMS Act, check out MFT’s blog post HERE. MFT is looking forward to continuing these discussions with the congressional delegation from Maine as Congress drafts and debates the next farm bill.

 

Maine Farmland Trust is currently working to create a more interactive webpage for our policy program. Sign up HERE to be alerted when the page is live, and to receive policy updates and action alerts.

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

A Bill to Help the Next Generation of Maine Farmers

There are indications from leaders in Congress that significant action on the next farm bill will happen in early 2018. Given the number of bills on Congress’ plate for 2018, this timeline could certainly change, but it is important to highlight some bills that have been introduced for inclusion in the farm bill that would be very beneficial for Maine farmers.

We previously wrote about one of these bills, the Local FARMS Act, which was introduced by Maine’s own Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME) along with others in October 2017. Another important bill is the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2017, which was introduced on November 8, 2017 by Tim Walz (D-MN) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE). Maine Farmland Trust is proud to support this legislation because it would ensure that beginning farmers have better access to farmland, equitable access to financial capital and federal crop insurance, and encourage a commitment to conservation and stewardship.

In our work, one of the biggest challenges we face is that Maine farmers age 65 and older own or manage 36% of the farms in Maine, but over 90% of them do not have identified successors.[1] This means that over the next decade the future of over 400,000 acres of land in Maine is uncertain.[2] And on the national level, nearly 100 million acres of farmland (enough to support nearly 250,000 family farms) is set to change hands over the next five years – during the course of the next farm bill. At the same time, aspiring farmers both in Maine and nationwide are facing significant barriers to success in agriculture, including the limited availability of affordable and desirable farmland, challenges in acquiring start-up capital and financing, and limited access to hands-on training and risk management tools. Many of MFT’s programs, including Maine FarmLink, our Purchased Easement Program, and the support services we provide to beginning farmers are focused on addressing these challenges. But our federal policies must also make it possible for the next generation of American farmers to support their families, revitalize rural communities, and protect our shared natural resources for generations to come.

The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act lays out a national strategy for addressing these long-standing entry barriers for beginning farmers while providing the tools that the next generation of farmers needs for economic success. The strategy outlined in the legislation includes the following measures:

  • Expanding beginning farmers’ access to affordable land through the prioritization of Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) projects that maintain agricultural farm viability and include affordability protections, such as an option to purchase at agricultural value (OPAV). The bill would also direct the National Agricultural Statistics Service to collect and report data and analysis on farmland ownership, tenure, transition, barriers to entry, and the profitability and viability of beginning farmers.
  • Empowering new farmers with the skills to succeed in today’s agricultural economy by securing permanent support of $50 million a year in funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) to ensure long-term investments in new farmer training, particularly those programs focused on food safety training, land access, farm transition, and succession planning. The bill would also create a new matched savings asset-building and financial training Individual Development Account program. In addition, the legislation would increase funding for the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program to $5 million per year to support 1:1 technical assistance and start-up capital to foster new farm businesses.
  • Ensuring equitable access to financial capital and federal crop insurance by ensuring farmers are able to finance new farm purchases by raising the cap on FSA Direct Ownership Loans to $500,000, adjusted annually by regional farmland inflation rates. The bill would also expand beginning farmer crop insurance incentives to all new farmers under 10 years, and create an on-ramp to Federal Crop Insurance for beginning farmers with no revenue history through the Non-insured Crop Assistance Program.
  • Encourage commitment to conservation and stewardship across generations by increasing beginning and socially disadvantaged farmer participation in working land conservation programs through the increase of the existing set-aside from 5% to 15% within both the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). The bill would also simplify the EQIP Advance Payment Option to ensure automatic enrollment for both beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers.

The full text of the bill can be found HERE.

MFT is currently creating a more interactive webpage for our policy program. Sign up HERE to be alerted when the page is live, and to receive policy updates and action alerts.

[1] American Farmland Trust (2016). Gaining Insights, Gaining Access. Northampton, MA: American Farmland Trust. Retrieved from http://www.farmlandinfo.org/sites/default/files/AFT_ME-FS_C_GainingInsight_GainingAccess.pdf.

[2] Id.

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

3rd Annual Farmland Access Conference

In the next decade, more than 400,000 acres of Maine farmland will transition in ownership. What will happen to that land? Farmers, landowners, and farm advocates are invited to the third annual Farmland Access Conference on December 4, 2017 at the Augusta Civic Center, Augusta ME co-hosted by Maine Farmland Trust and Land For Good. The day-long conference will delve into some of the stickiest issues facing farming today. Workshops will tackle challenges of how to provide for a farm’s future when a farmer is ready to retire, and how next generation farmers can take on the stewardship of farmland in transition and shepherd the future of Maine’s food system.

Deadline to register is

Thursday, November 30. Cost of attendance is $15 per person and includes a lunch sourced from local farmers and producers.

Agenda

  • 8-8:30 Registration
  • 8:30-10 Welcome, Opening Plenary: Farmland in the Balance: At the Nexus of Access, Transfer, Viability, and Conservation
    • Chellie Pingree, US Congress
    • Walter Whitcomb, Maine Agriculture Commissioner
    • Amanda Beal, President, and CEO, Maine Farmland Trust
    • Jim Hafner, Executive Director, Land For Good

Farmland Access is a cross-cutting issue that requires multiples perspectives and approaches. Our panelists will share remarks from their own rich experiences and areas of expertise in farm access, transfer, viability, and conservation; and offer insights into what’s needed in these areas to continue making progress towards a robust and sustainable Maine food system. A facilitated discussion between the panelists and the audience will follow.  

  • 10-10:25  Break
  • 10:30-Noon  Breakout 1
  • Noon-12:45  Lunch  
  • 12:45-2  Breakout 2  
  • 2-2:25  Break
  • 2:30-3:30  Breakout 3

See the Breakout Session Descriptions here.

walk-in registration the day of the conference is welcome!

Questions?  Interested in sponsoring the event? Contact Erica Buswell: ebuswell@mainefarmlandtrust.org

Thank you to our sponsors!

Chellie Pingree, Walt Whitcomb to speak at 3rd Annual Farmland Access Conference

US Rep. Chellie Pingree, Commissioner Walter Whitcomb will speak to the many challenges of farmland access, farm transfer, and next-generation farmers at the Farmland Access Conference


Augusta.
Maine Farmland Trust and Land For Good will host the third annual Farmland Access Conference on December 4, 2017, at the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta ME. The day-long conference will delve into some of the stickiest issues facing farming today. Workshops will tackle challenges of how to provide for a farm’s future when a farmer is ready to retire, and how next-generation farmers can take on the stewardship of farmland in transition and shepherd the future of Maine’s food system.

“In the next decade, more than 400,000 acres of Maine farmland will transition in ownership, raising the question: what will happen to that land?” explains Erica Buswell, Vice President of Programs for MFT. “To ensure this farmland stays in production, all of us must find a way to support land transition with programs that help farmland owners and make land available and affordable for farmers.”

Last year’s conference brought together 150 established and beginning farmers, landowners, and providers that help farmers with access and transfer issues. Today’s farmers—both those who are transitioning out of farming and those who are starting new farm enterprises—will have a pivotal role in shaping the future of our regional food system.

“With available farmland, a growing food scene, and a dynamic new farmer population, Maine is an exciting and rewarding place do our innovative land access and transfer work,” says Jim Habana-Hafner, Executive Director for Land For Good (LFG). “We have great partners for land access work in every state – and can’t do our work effectively without them. But there’s no question that some of our most long-standing and innovative are in Maine, and MFT is among our strongest allies anywhere. We’re excited to contribute to this vibrant network of so many great farm support organizations in the state.”

The opening plenary panel at the conference will be a conversation about  Farmland in the Balance: At the Nexus of Access, Transfer, Viability, and Conservation, and include panelists Chellie Pingree (US Congress), Walter Whitcomb (Maine Agriculture Commissioner), Amanda Beal, (President and CEO, Maine Farmland Trust), Jim Hafner (Executive Director, Land For Good). The panelists will share remarks from their own experiences and areas of expertise in farm access, transfer, viability, and conservation; and offer insights into what’s needed in these areas to continue making progress towards a robust and sustainable Maine food system.

The conference is geared toward a diverse audience including retiring farmers interested in transferring land to next-generation farmers; non-farming landowners that have an interest in making land available for farming; service providers and other advocates, including land trusts, conservation commissions, town planners and lenders with an interest in fostering affordable farmland access; and farmers seeking affordable farmland. Workshops will discuss farmland access strategies, impacts that both federal and state-level policies and programs have on farmland access and transfer, tools for enabling farm transfers, using conservation easements as a component of a farm purchase, how to prepare to buy or sell farmland or a farm business, and more. Conference presenters include local farmers and service providers working on the ground in Maine, as well as experts from around New England.

Exhibits and networking opportunities will be available throughout the day. The conference is hosted by Maine Farmland Trust, and Land For Good. Sponsors include American Farmland Trust, The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry (DACF), The Greenhorns, Agrarian Trust, Cooperative Development Institute, and Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

For more information or to register, go to mainefarmlandtrust.org or call 207-338-6575. The deadline to register is Thursday, November 30. Cost of attendance is $15 per person and includes a lunch sourced from local farmers and producers.