Farmland protection stalling
According to new statistics released by the Farmland Information Center of American Farmland Trust, or AFT, efforts by state governments to protect agricultural land through purchase of agricultural conservation easement, or PACE, programs stalled despite an apparent increase in total acres protected.
PACE programs compensate farmers and ranchers for permanently protecting their land with conservation easements that limit future development and keep farmland available for agriculture.
The Farmland Information Center’s survey of PACE programs found that during 2010, state programs acquired 4% more easements to reach a total of 12,415 easements nationwide. Protected acres rose 8%, to 2,185,996 acres. Colorado accounted for 59% of the year’s increase in acres.
The state more than doubled its annual acres protected, from 43,723 acres in 2009 to 95,303 acres in 2010. When Colorado is taken out of the mix, the remaining state-level programs protected 21% less land than in the prior year. The state of Missouri is not active and does not fund PACE programs at this time.
• AFT report has been released on conservation easement activity, funding.
• State-level farmland protection program funding is in jeopardy.
• The federal government bridged funding gap in 2010; cuts are now possible.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation last summer allocating $90.6 million to preserve farmland in the Garden State. New Jersey’s State Agriculture Development Committee administers the farmland preservation programs, which include state-initiated farmland protection projects and grants to counties, municipalities and nonprofits.
In contrast, at least 16 active state programs either reduced spending or continued not to fund farmland protection projects in the face of tight state budgets. All states together spent $185,204,380, or 21% less than 2009, and 45% less than the amount in 2008.
Cuts in state-level farmland protection funding are particularly ill-timed, because PACE activity had started to gain momentum, encouraged by federal funding. From 2001 to 2011, there was a 32% increase in the number of active state-level programs, and a 127% spike in independent local programs. Easements acquired by state programs rose 153% from 4,898 to 12,415 while protected acres skyrocketed by 171%.
Future food security
Continued funding is needed to keep pace with development. Only three states had saved more than one acre for each acre of agricultural land converted: Delaware (1.21 acres), Maryland (1.63 acres) and Vermont (3.28 acres). PACE programs do not stop development, but ensure that there will be a supply of agricultural land in the future.
Food production, and therefore long-term food security, depends on the availability of agricultural land. Saving agricultural land as the world’s population grows from 7 billion to 9.4 billion in 2050 will help ensure that the global demand for food can be met, according to AFT.
Well-managed agricultural land also provides food and cover for wildlife and protects watersheds. It helps control flooding, absorbs and filters wastewater, provides groundwater recharge, and has the potential to generate a source of renewable energy. Working lands support local economies through sales of farm goods, job creation, support services and businesses; and by creating secondary markets such as food processing and distribution.
The federal government helped bridge the funding gap last in 2010, releasing $31 million more in Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, or FRPP, allocations than it did in 2009. The FRPP provides matching funds to entities to buy easements on agricultural land. Since its inception, from 1996 through 2010, the FRPP has allocated nearly $888 million for easement acquisitions and supporting technical assistance. Of the 25 states that acquired easements through PACE, 22 have used FRPP funds.
Reductions in federal funding or significant changes to the program could further stall farmland protection efforts nationwide. “We hope that Congress will think long and hard about cuts to conservation because conservation spending is vital to our national security. Conservation dollars spent here won’t be undone by future development. A working lands easement program keeps land available for production and invests in local economies,” says Katherine “Kitty” Smith, AFT vice president of programs and chief economist.
AFT’s Farmland Information Center conducts an annual survey of state and local PACE programs throughout the country. Results are available online at www.farmlandinfo.org.
Source: American Farmland Trust
Katy Land Trust
c/o Ozark Regional Land Trust
P.O. Box 440007
St. Louis, MO 63144
Katy Land Trust program voordinator: Preston Lacy
Source: Missouri National Resources Inventory
This article published in the January, 2012 edition of MISSOURI RURALIST.
All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.