Tag 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?

 

 

March Legislation Update

Act to Establish the Fund to Support Local Fruits and Vegetables Purchasing

On Tuesday, March 12th, the Maine Legislature’s Committee on Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry will hold a hearing on LD 920: An Act to Establish the Fund to Support Local Fruits and Vegetables Purchasing. MFT supports this legislation, which is sponsored by Rep. Bill Pluecker (I-Warren), because it would create a fund to provide incentives to recipients of federal food and nutrition assistance programs to buy more locally-grown fresh fruits and vegetables. These types of programs, like MFT’s Farm Fresh Rewards program, not only increase access to healthy locally-grown foods for low-income shoppers, but they also help all kinds of Maine farms gain new customers and build sales, thereby keeping more dollars in Maine’s food economy. The hearing will take place at 1pm in Room 214 of the Cross Building.

 

An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Promote Land Conservation, Working Waterfronts, Water Access, and Outdoor Recreation

On Tuesday, March 5th the Land Conservation Task Force, a group of diverse individuals and organizations representing agricultural, municipal, sportman’s and conservation interests, released their recommendations for the next generation of land conservation in Maine. Adam Bishop, MFT’s Farmland Protection Manager, participated on the Task Force. These recommendations included having LMF, Maine’s primary source of funding for conservation in Maine, place a high priority on conserving lands that support Maine’s vibrant farming sector. They also included a request for $75 million in bond funding to support the LMF program and $20 million to support state parks. Please contact your representatives in Augusta and ask them to support LD 911: An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Promote Land Conservation, Working Waterfronts, Water Access and Outdoor Recreation, the bond measure based on the Task Force’s recommendations. You can find your representatives HERE.

 

An Act to Limit Greenhouse Gas Pollution and Effectively Use Maine’s Natural Resources

On Wednesday, March 13th, the Maine Legislature’s Committee on Environment and Natural Resources will hold a hearing on LD 797: An Act to Limit Greenhouse Gas Pollution and Effectively Use Maine’s Natural Resources. MFT supports this legislation, which is sponsored by Rep. Ralph Tucker (D-Brunswick), because in addition to setting long-term and short-term emissions reductions goals, the bill calls for an inclusive process with input from various stakeholders, including the agriculture sector, to update the state’s climate action plan. In creating the updated plan, the legislation also requires that consideration be given to encouraging natural climate solutions like healthy soils practices and farmland protection. The hearing will take place at 10am in Room 216 of the Cross Building.

 

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

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: We need your knowledge and ideas to shape the future of agriculture in Maine!

Calling all farmers:

We need your knowledge and ideas to shape the future of agriculture in Maine!

How can state government and other service and education providers better support YOU?

Please help us develop an assessment of farmer needs and priorities to inform program development, state government, and service and education providers supporting farmers and Maine’s agricultural economy.

Attend an upcoming work session to share your thoughts about what you need to strengthen your farm business and grow Maine agriculture.

 

WHEN & WHERE

Sessions will be held at the following Cooperative Extension Offices:

 

Locally-sourced refreshments provided.

*RSVP’s are appreciated! maineagneeds@gmail.com*

 

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.

 

Can’t attend a session? Visit sites.google.com/view/maineagneeds or email

maineagneeds@gmail.com for more information about a webinar and online survey.

Stay updated at facebook.com/maineagneeds

 

This effort is being coordinated by: AGCOM, CEI, Cooperative Extension, MFT, Maine Food Strategy, MOFGA, and Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society

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.

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you can help shape food and agriculture policy.

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.