DOAG: Farmland Preservation Program Update

This article appeared in the December 11, 2013 edition of the Ag Report.
 
 

Farmland Preservation Program Update

Katherine Winslow, Bureau of Agricultural Development and Resource Preservation

The Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s Farmland Preservation Program is part of the Bureau of Agricultural Development and Resource Preservation (which also includes the agency’s Marketing unit).  Longtime Farmland Preservation Program Director Joseph (J.) Dippel is now director of the bureau, having acted in that capacity since May 2012.  In addition, he serves as executive director of the Hartford Regional Market. 

 

At its annual meeting in November, the Working Lands Alliance presented J. with a special recognition award for his 20 years of public service as director of the Farmland Preservation Program, where his knowledge, skills and expertise were put to excellent use. 

 

J. has begun the search for a new director of the program, which oversees the longstanding purchase of development rights program known by the same name (Farmland Preservation Program), as well as the more recent Farmland Restoration Program, Community Farms Preservation Program, and the leasing of state-owned farmland.  An update on the status of these programs follows.

 

The Farmland Preservation Program has closed on three farms in 2013 to date.  These include Szegda Farm in Columbia and Hebron, Raffia Farm in Enfield, and Myers Farm in Ellington, for a total of approximately 287 acres. 

 

Two of the three were joint state-town projects.  The Connecticut Department of Agriculture appreciates the towns of Columbia and Ellington for their participation and joint cost share.  It also hopes for federal funding reimbursement in part by the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. 

 

An additional 14 farms totaling 1,475 acres are expected to be completed by early 2014.

Szegda Farm, located on the southerly side of state Route 66, is the picturesque landscape one sees to the south when entering the town of Columbia from Hebron.  In addition to its scenic vista, this farm includes a residence, barn, greenhouse, and about 76 acres of prime and important farmland soils.  Cropland is in hay that owner Ronald Szegda harvests and sells directly off the farm for livestock and dairy support.  Another local start-up farmer grows annual and perennial flowers in a hoophouse on the farm. 

 

Szegda Farm occurs opposite the 43-acre Robinson Farm, protected in 1987.  A former dairy farmer, Mr. Szegda desires to live out his life on the farm, and preserve the property for future generations of farmers. 

 

Myers Farm in Ellington contains about 60 acres of prime and statewide important soils.  It is leased by local farmers for hay and dairy support, and is adjacent to a block of agricultural lands that includes the 66-acre Pease Farm and 69-acre Swann Farm, protected in the 1980s.  Louis Myers of Myers Nursery, Inc., wishes to keep the land in agriculture due to its quality and surrounding compatible land use. 

 

Mitchell Raffia of Raffia Farm in Enfield considered protecting his family’s farm for decades.  A farmer knows when the time is right for him or her, and Mr. Raffia decided that time was now. 

 

Raffia Farm contains 102 acres of prime and statewide important farmland soils—nearly 100% of the farm—with cropland in tobacco, corn, hay, and vegetables.  It also contains several tobacco barns and other barns of agricultural infrastructure that support the farm.  Several abutting farms have been preserved in Enfield, including Collins (164 acres), Osiers (63 acres), and Grande (69 acres).  Raffia Farms received the highest score available in the Farmland Preservation Program’s scoring criteria.

Through Governor Malloy’s pioneering decision and the efforts of many stakeholders and the Farmland Preservation Advisory Board, more than 825 acres (exact acreage to be surveyed) of state-owned agricultural lands at Southbury Training School were preserved in 2013. 

 

Southbury’s Ed and Ben Platt lease these agricultural lands for pasture, hay, and corn silage to support their active dairy operation, while the school continues to operate a poultry and Christmas tree farm on the site. 

 

Care, custody and control of the land and farm buildings were transferred from the Department of Developmental Services to the Department of Agriculture through Public Act 13-90, and a permanent conservation covenant is being conveyed to the Southbury Land Trust. 

 

This farm is the largest-ever parcel of farmland preserved through the Farmland Preservation Program.   A plan for the agricultural reserve will provide opportunities for new farmers through an incubator farm program.

 

The Farmland Preservation Program began as a pilot in 1978 through Public Act 78-232.  It primarily has protected active farms in Connecticut with a large quantity of prime farmland soils and farmland soils of statewide importance.  It also leases state-owned agricultural lands with the cooperation of other agencies that may have custody and control of such lands.  In addition, it manages the Lebanon Agricultural Reserve, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s farm demonstration project.

 

The Farmland Restoration Program, which began in 2011 through Public Act 11-1, has allocated $1.3 million of funding to farm projects that increase the resource base for Connecticut agriculture.  Part of the jobs bill, this program received state bond funding that put farmers to work to increase the state’s farmland resource base for agriculture with an emphasis on human and livestock food production. 

 

To date, 88 applications totaling more than 1,060 acres have been received.  An average of approximately 12.5 acres per project are being restored, with each project being managed in accordance with a current farmland restoration plan.  Many are on farms preserved by the Farmland Preservation Program.

The Community Farms Preservation Program was created through Public Act 08-174 and began as a pilot in 2011.  This program is designed to preserve smaller farms of local economic importance with a demonstrated level of community support. 

 

Although no funding for the program existed the first few years after the enacting legislation was passed, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, in conjunction with stakeholders and the Farmland Preservation Advisory Board, worked to prepare criteria with special emphasis on increasing local capacity to participate in farmland preservation efforts.

The pilot of the Community Farms Preservation Program is proceeding with two farms under contract, one offer to purchase development rights already extended, and three offers to be extended once the joint state-town offers are approved by the participating towns. 

 

Nine applications were eligible for the pilot and an additional six applications have been received.  Applications cover seven counties.  Towns eligible for the Community Farms Preservation Program total 23, more than double the number that have participated in joint state-town purchase of development rights projects leading up to the introduction of the Community Farms Preservation Program.  

 

Connecticut agriculture depends on the viability and sustainability of its farm businesses and prime and important farmland soils resource base.  Preserving farms, and investing in these farms, helps to protect the state’s agricultural heritage and support Connecticut agriculture’s future adaptation to a changing world. 

 

If you would like more information about the Farmland Preservation Program, Farmland Restoration Program, and/or Community Farms Program, please call 860-713-2511 or inquire in writing to the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, Farmland Preservation Program, 165 Capitol Avenue, G8A, Hartford, CT  06106.