Protecting farmland for future use is of utmost importance
"Protecting farmland for future agricultural use is of utmost importance to every citizen of the United States... so critical to maintaining the future viability of our agricultural sectors and rural communities," said agriculture commissioners and officials from 13 states in a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. American Farmland Trust coordinated the letter commenting on the federal Interim Final Rule regarding the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, with participating states in New England to the Mid-Atlantic, and including Ohio and Michigan.
"The states who signed the letter represent over 70 percent of all the acreage protected under state farmland protection programs," says Bob Wagner, Senior Director of Farmland Protection Programs for AFT. "The states recognize that the federal government has been a key partner in helping protect farmland since 1995, and they are offering improvements to the FRPP program so that it can be most effective and efficient."
While there are differences in agricultural practices by the states in the region, the letter identified common issues of concern, and asked that the Natural Resources Conservation Service allow the states maximum discretion to implement FRPP as Congress directed in the 2008 Farm Bill. The signatories believe that the current two proposed docket rules need to be revised to better reflect that:
--FRPP was changed from a federal real estate acquisition program to a program that facilitates financial assistance to non-federal entities for conservation easement acquisitions; and,
--FRPP was expanded beyond the purpose of protecting soils to the protection of agricultural use and related conservation values.
In addition, the group asks that USDA review and clarify questions in the following areas: Contingent Right of Enforcement, Certification, Easement Terms and Conditions, Forest Management Plans, Impervious Surfaces, and National Ranking Consideration and Proposal Selection.
"The FRPP program is a significant tool in our efforts to protect working farm and ranch land across this country," says Wagner. "With the tough economic climate, states are even more dependent on a good federal program partner. But we need a program that encourages participation, is adequately funded, and gets the details right."
"We're at a critical place in agriculture," adds Wagner. "Saving our farm and ranch land, and keeping both the lands and our farms healthy, is key to our future success in the agriculture sector."
American Farmland Trust will work with the group to facilitate a meeting between the state agriculture commissioners and the USDA to discuss the matters in greater detail. A full copy of the submitted letter is available along with this release at www.farmland.org/news/pressreleases.