Washington, DC –American Farmland Trust, the organization behind the national movement No Farms No Food, supports today’s passage of the House Farm Bill as an important milestone for farmland and ranchland protection and a vital step in the passage of a timely 2018 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill provides essential funding for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), along with other important conservation programs and beginning farmer programs.
AFT’s recent report, “Farms Under Threat: The State of America’s Farmland”, showed that the loss of farmland is serious and accelerating. Almost 31 million acres was lost to development between 1992 and 2012, nearly twice the area of farmland was lost than was previously shown.
“That’s 3 acres a minute, 175 acres an hour, gone forever. We need farmland to feed us and sustain our economy—but also to help restore our planet,” says John Piotti, president and CEO of AFT.
“The Farm Bill gives us a chance to stem the loss,” he continued. “Restoring funding to ACEP at $500 million annually — as it was in 2017 — is an essential first step. The House version of the Farm Bill does that and AFT urges that this level of funding be established in the final bill.”
AFT considers ACEP to be one of the most powerful tools available to protect farmland. Since its founding in 1980, AFT has worked with state and local entities and agricultural land trusts —many of whom utilize ACEP funds — to protect over 6.5 million acres.
Importantly, the House bill also improves the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), boosting funding and adding provisions to help project partners measure beneficial outcomes. This will enable RCPP to model how other federal programs can more effectively achieve conservation goals. The bill includes two new initiatives—a Commission on Farm Transition and a Farmland Tenure, Transition and Entry Data Initiative—that AFT believes will provide valuable insights to guide future policies to attract and support the next generation that works the land.
“In the next 10 to 15 years, one-third of agricultural land will change hands,” says John Piotti “We know that ACEP is a vital tool in addressing the enormous land transition challenge ahead. Selling an agricultural conservation easement allows farmers and ranchers to extract equity from their land without selling it for development. It can finance retirement and help transfer the family farm to the next generation. It also makes land affordable for the next generation. Tools like the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) are also needed, and we applaud the House for making farm transfer and succession a specific, allowable focus of that program.”
AFT notes that Farm Bills have historically relied on bipartisan support, as well as cooperation between the agricultural, anti-hunger and conservation communities. Said Piotti: “As this process moves forward, we urge Congress to maintain this traditional bipartisanship and collaboration. We look forward to working with both sides of the aisle in both the House and Senate as the bill moves through the legislative process.