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Partners and participants from across New England on the Land Access Project (LAP2) reviewed their state’s land access programming, policy landscape, progress, and priorities at the last convening. Over the winter and spring, state-level collaborations have launched or blossomed, moving forward on identified priorities, expanding programming, and fostering policy change. From hosting farm transfer and succession workshops, to evaluating state listing and linking services, to identifying interim financing and long-term funding for the purchase of agricultural conservation easements, partners around the region have been busy!
Addressing one of the identified priorities at the last convening, Maine LAP2 partners Land For Good and Maine Farmland Trust hosted a training course this spring for 40 real estate professionals (April 2017), who left with the tools needed to effectively market properties to commercial farm buyers. Another priority is to foster succession planning assistance teams and strengthen the network of service providers skilled in farm transfer, leasing and related technical assistance.
Maine attorneys and ag service providers were well represented among the participants and presenters at the Professional Training for Farm Succession Advisors,” said Jim Hafner, Executive Director for Land For Good.
The Professional Training For Farm Succession Advisors (May 2017) was developed by the LAP Succession and Transfer Task Force. This task force also created a Farm Succession School that was conducted in ME for 4 farm families this past winter.
Maine Farmland Trust is planning a third statewide Land Access Conference for the fall. Maine Farm Link, hosted by Maine Farmland Trust, is part of the New England Farm Link Collaborative, a partnership of farm link programs and land access services in New England who provide a variety of farmland access support services.
The Beginning Farmer Resource Network (BFRN) is a coalition of Maine agriculture agencies and organizations working together to connect aspiring and beginning farmers to resources for farm business success. Jo Barrett, Maine Field Agent for Land For Good (LFG), participated in the early phase of BFRN writing a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant proposal supporting relationships for farm Success. BFRN was granted funding and the project is ongoing. LFG’s current role is to attend 2 day-long trainings (May & October) to help evaluate and participate in working groups whose purpose is to create curriculum that assists agricultural service providers throughout the state in recognizing the interpersonal issues that arise on a farm at various points in the farm’s lifespan in order to provide effective support, either through direct service or targeted referrals.
Jo will continue to work with BFRN to write a proposal for a phase 2 SARE grant project to help mitigate the effects of on-farm, interpersonal issues that might damage the sustainability of the farm. In this second phase, farmers themselves will be empowered to discuss and address the family and employee issues that often negatively affect the farms business and the lives of the farmers.
Among the priorities identified by New Hampshire LAP2 partners was the need for a revolving loan fund to facilitate land transitions to next generation farmers. This spring, the Land Resources Action Team of the NH Food Alliance (LFG’s NH Field Agent, Cara Cargill is an Action Team co-chair) has been focused on that issue, meeting with the NH Community Loan Fund, the NH Charitable Foundation, and others to develop a plan of action. The Action Team is also focused on expanding public and private resources for farmland protection. Read more about the Land Other LAP2 partner priorities include increasing technical assistance to senior farmers around financial planning and Medicaid rules.
NH attorneys and agricultural professionals attended the Professional Training For Farm Succession Advisors (May 2017) was developed by the LAP Succession and Transfer Task Force and hosted by LFG. This task force also created a Farm Succession School that assisted 3 farm families in NH this past winter.
Cara Cargill, New Hampshire Field Agent for LFG, is working on a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education project about how to mediate lease arrangements. As part of our Land Access Project, LFG hosted a NH Farmland Access Info Session in Ossipee (February 2017) with additional state partners including BCM Environmental & Land Law, Farm Credit East, Hvizda Team Keller Williams, NH Agricultural Mediation Program, NH Community Loan Fund, UNH Cooperative Extension, Upper Saco Valley Land Trust, USDA Farm Service Agency, and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Another farmland access info session is planned for the fall.
Massachusetts LAP2 partners discussed ways to gain traction on land access-related recommendations contained in the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan. A statewide Farmland Advisory Panel recently convened by the Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner John Lebeaux is now tasked, among other things, with finding ways to expand land access across the Commonwealth. Issues identified in the Plan that the Panel may take up include an inventory of state-owned land that could be leased to farmers, analysis of the state’s current use program and its impact on land access, and a need for increased farm transfer and succession planning, as well as ways to better connect transitioning farmers and non-farming landowners with farm seekers. Several LAP2 partners are also working on policy changes this legislative session, including a change to how farmland is valued for state estate tax purposes, and enabling cities to reduce or waive property taxes on urban parcels being used for farming.
Vermont LAP2 partners plan to prioritize dissemination and follow-up on LFG’s 2016 farmland investor report, and the Vermont Farm to Plate Farmland Access Task Force convened a meeting in February with farmland investment companies operating in Vermont. Partners are planning to focus on implementation issues around the federal Agricultural Lands Easement program, and working with farm lenders around land access financing options. A spring meeting of the Vermont Farm to Plate Farmland Access and Stewardship Working Group focused on how VT’s new renewable energy sitting law is impacting farmland. The task force also completed a redesign to the Vermont Land Link website, now mobile-friendly, which helps connect landowners with farmers and farmers with available farmland. The website is also synchronized with New England Farmland Finder and part of the New England Farm Link Collaborative. Vermont Land Link is reaching out to real estate professionals in the state who wish to connect with commercial farm buyers.
A Farm Succession School, created by the LAP Succession and Transfer Task Force, was also conducted in VT and assisted 3 farm families this past winter.
Connecticut’s LAP2 partners all participate in the state’s Farmland Access Working Group, which brings service providers together with state and local officials to advance land access policies and programs. An April meeting of the group reviewed public and private financing options available to beginning farmers for land acquisition and focused on possible affordability mechanisms, such as a state beginning farmer loan program or robust land trust buy-protect-sell program. The group also focuses on expanding technical assistance to transitioning farmers, and hopes to make use of an opportunity created in 2016 by a change to the state’s Ag Viability grant program that allows funds to be used for this purpose.
Rachel Murray, Connecticut Field Agent for LFG, will also host a Landowner’s Workshop in Stonington, CT (October 2017) for non-farming landowners who are interested in making their land available for farming. The workshop will share how making productive, sustainable uses for all or part of their property can bring many rewards. LFG also plans to host a workshop at the National Women in Agriculture Association Conference in New Haven (2018).
Moving forward with one of their identified priorities, Rhode Island LAP2 partners offered a Farm Succession Planning Workshop (March 2017) as part of a broader land access initiative supported in part by a state Local Agriculture and Seafood Act (LASA) grant. The same LASA grant supported three Non-Operating Landowner Workshops held in different communities around the state: Aquidneck Island ( September 2016), South Kingston (November 2016), and Charlestown (June 2017). Follow ups from these workshops include communication with private landowners and organizational landowners such as the Narragansett Indian Tribe to envision mechanisms for listing farmland and coordinating shared management. Many partners are also collaborating with Southside Community Land Trust, which received a USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Grant to, among other activities, help seekers and landowners connect, in collaboration with the Young Farmer Network. This work has included a farm seeker workshop series, and a Land Access Working Group which is—for the first time in the state—coordinating land access resources and efforts between the RI Division of Agriculture, Rhode Island Association of Conservation Districts, Rhode Island Land Trust Council, Young Farmer Network, conservation groups, and LFG through our Rhode Island Field Agent. This group has developed a list of farm seekers, and better protocol for considering/offering land that is brought to any member’s attention.
A new Land Access Policy Group convened by the Conservation Law Foundation has focused primarily on two issues: providing input to the RI Division of Agriculture on its new Farmland Access Program, which will offer beginning farmers a chance to purchase farmland parcels that have been bought and protected by the state; and pushing to limit the type and amount of commercial solar development on farmland. This group also works more generally on issues and strengths of RI’s land conservation and easement program in an attempt to stem the imminent shift of farmland from older farmer/operators to the next generation of farmers, or alternatively to developers. The Policy Group has discussed tools used in other states—such as Option to Purchase at Agricultural Value (OPAV) and affirmative covenants—to consider how the precarious existing system might be fortified. Similarly to the Land Access Working Group, the Policy Group represents a somewhat new effort to coordinate between agencies and organizations to build collective support for policies, initiatives, and programs that will protect farmland and encourage its transfer to active operators. On the docket for both groups is considering the 100+ conserved farms in the state, and developing action plans to ensure that many of them remain in agriculture.