DOAG: Farmland Preservation Program Updates

This article appeared in the March 13, 2013 edition of the Ag Report
 
Farmland Preservation Program Updates

By the Bureau of Agricultural Development and Resource Preservation

 

The Connecticut Department of Agriculture's Farmland Preservation Program expects to reach two major milestones this year:  preservation of the 40,000th acre and preservation of the 300th farm.  These landmarks punctuate 35 years of success since the program’s creation in 1978 through Public Act 78-232, when it became the second state farmland preservation program in the nation.

 

The program protects farmland through negotiated acquisition of development rights to qualified farms.  Farm owners apply to the program voluntarily.  A permanent conservation easement is recorded on land records indicating the farm is restricted to agricultural use only, preventing conversion to non-residential uses and subdivision. 

 

Through this program, state and partner funds invested in Connecticut family farm operations have helped Connecticut retain its rural character and scenic vistas, protect natural resources, promote local food security, sustain local employment, and keep agricultural lands and soils available in perpetuity for agricultural production.

 

During the past 12 months, the Connecticut Farmland Preservation Program has preserved eight farms comprising 900 acres.  Eleven additional farms totaling 1,168 acres are projected to be completed this year. 

 

The program's eight most recently preserved farms are located in eight municipalities and five counties:

  • Harris Hill Farm in New Milford (80 acres)
  • Hillyland Farm in Scotland (163 acres)
  • March Farm in Bethlehem (133 acres)
  • Myers Farm in Ellington (70 acres)
  • Raffia Farm in Enfield (103 acres)
  • Szegda Farm in Columbia (113 acres)
  • Tanner Farm in Warren (50 acres)
  • Young Farm in Woodstock (184 acres)

and are representative of both Connecticut’s diversity of farming operations and abundance of agricultural marketing opportunities. 

 

The development rights to these eight farms were purchased by the State of Connecticut for just over $6.07 million, including $5.49 million in state funds and an additional $620,000 from the municipalities of Ellington, New Milford, and Columbia, through joint state-municipal projects. 

 

The state’s cost of acquiring development rights on qualified farms is often leveraged with federal Farm & Ranch Lands Protection (FRLP) program funds administered by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).  These federal funds allow state dollars to go further in protecting farmland resources.

 

The USDA's FRLP program is the state’s primary cost-sharing partner.  Since 1997, Connecticut and USDA have partnered on 104 farms, protecting 11,580 acres.  The Connecticut Department of Agriculture has secured federal assistance of more than $21 million in the process. 

 

In February, the state submitted a proposal to NRCS for $6 million to partner on the purchase of development rights to 19 additional farms totaling an estimated 2,420 acres.

 

A joint state-municipal partnership initiative was established within the Connecticut Department of Agriculture's Farmland Preservation Program in the late 1980s.  It encourages local proactive efforts that have led to projects in 11 municipalities, including Ashford, Columbia, Coventry, Ellington, Granby, Lebanon, New Milford, Pomfret, Shelton, Suffield, and Woodstock.  These municipal efforts have resulted in the preservation of 33 farms comprising 3,138 acres at a cost of $5.8 million, with municipal contributions of between 25 to 35 percent.

 

In addition, three land trusts have aided the state and municipalities in their efforts to permanently protect critical farmland:  Connecticut Farmland Trust (a statewide agricultural land trust), the Joshua Tract Conservation and Historic Trust (an eastern Connecticut land trust), and the Granby Land Trust. 

 

Ten program farm projects have included a four-way partnership of state, federal, municipal, and land trust cooperation.

 

COMMUNITY FARMS PRESERVATION PROGRAM

The newly created Community Farms Preservation (CFP) program is geared toward smaller farms and requires a municipal partner.  It has resulted in 24 new municipalities entering into cooperative agreements with the Connecticut Department of Agriculture during the last year alone.  These efforts have led to 11 new CFP program applications. 

 

The purpose of this new pilot CFP program is to encourage locally supported farmland preservation on smaller farms that have excellent agricultural soils and contribute to local economic activity, but which may not be eligible for other protection programs.

 

For municipalities to qualify, they must enter with the Connecticut Department of Agriculture into cooperative agreements that do the following:

  • recognize farmland preservation in the municipal plan of conservation and development
  • establish an agricultural commission and/or program for farmland preservation
  • inventory local farmland resources
  • establish local scoring criteria for prioritizing local farms
  • designate or have a local funding mechanism
  • request identification of locally important farmland soils through the USDA

 

Acre by acre, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture's Farmland Preservation Program continues working toward its longtime goal of protecting 130,000 acres of farmland, including 85,000 acres of cropland. 

 

In the year ahead—as recommended by the Connecticut General Assembly’s Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee in its December 2012 Results Based Analysis—the Farmland Preservation Advisory Board will be conducting research, study, and review of this goal to determine if an adjustment is appropriate.

 

In total, the program has now preserved farms in 75 of Connecticut's 169 municipalities and in all eight counties.  Development rights acquisitions now total 296 farms and 38,546 acres, or 30 percent of the program's goal. 

 

If you have been thinking of preserving your farm or farmland, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture welcomes your application.  Applications are accepted on a continuous basis. 

 

Preserved farms have met minimum eligibility requirements and have successfully competed with other priority farms for farmland preservation funds.  Owners of farms ineligible for this program may be referred to other state or federal programs, or to local land trusts. 

 

For an application or more information, please call 860-713-2511 or visit the Farmland Preservation Progarm page:http://www.ct.gov/doag/cwp/view.asp?a=3260&q=399016