Funding for state farmland protection made large jump, survey finds

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Jan. 24, 2014 - Funding by states for farm and ranchland protection programs jumped 19 percent from 2011 to 2012, but was still 39 percent below 2008 levels, according to an annual survey by the American Farmland Trust.

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“State budget cuts have hit agricultural land protection programs hard in the last five years, but our latest survey shows a very significant increase from 2011 to 2012,” said Andrew McElwaine, AFT president and chief executive officer. McElwaine said the increase shows that a number of states have put a priority on protecting farmland, while state spending on environmental protection programs generally continues in a downward trend.

“If states had continued the same level of funding they had in 2008, we would have saved an additional 358,000 acres of agricultural land and purchased 2,000 additional farmland conservation easements,” McElwaine said.

American Farmland Trust said it worked with state partners in New York to increase farmland protection funding by $13 million last year, and in Washington state to boost funding from $700,000 to $5.3 million.

The AFT survey found that states protected an additional 89,465 acres of agricultural land in 2012, acquiring 480 easements, and spent nearly $206 million. Overall since 1979, state farm- and ranchland programs have protected 2,373,470 acres by acquiring 13,450 easements and spending a total of over $3.6 billion, the survey found.

Colorado, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey and Vermont led the 27 states with active farmland protection programs in the number of acres enrolled. New Jersey had 27 percent of its acreage protected, Delaware had 21 percent, Maryland 18 percent, Massachusetts 13 percent, and Vermont 11 percent.

“While there is some optimism in our survey, the United States has been losing one acre of farmland every minute to development,” McElwaine said. “In the face of a global need to double food production by 2050, that is unacceptable. We believe state, local and national governments must step up to the plate and do more to protect land and keep farmers farming.”

In particular, McElwaine cited increased funding for the federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program contained in the recently-passed budget that provides matching funds for farmland protection.

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