Protecting Farmland from Development Ranks Among the Nation's Top Priorities

from American Farmland Trust

Washington, D.C., May 8, 2002-The 2002 Farm Bill passed Congress today with nearly $1 billion in new funding for the federal Farmland Protection Program, offering a glimmer of good policy in a bill that's been highly criticized for its largess.

"This is a major breakthrough for the future of our nation's farmland," said American Farmland Trust President Ralph Grossi. "In committing $1 billion for farmland protection, Congress responded to the needs and demands of farmers and ranchers nationwide. Farmland protection now has a seat at the roundtable of agricultural policy-it's a major program addressing a significant national need."

The new Farmland Protection Program (FPP) money will be spent over the next 10 years to purchase development rights on farmland, ensuring that the land remains permanently in agriculture. America currently loses more than one million acres of farm and ranch land each year to development.

"The $35 million 'starter kit' for farmland protection in the last farm bill is now a $1 billion program, addressing one of the public's top priorities," Grossi said. "Increased spending to protect our working lands from development is a sign that the 2002 Farm Bill contains at least some improvements over previous bills."

Since the FPP is a matching program, states and local governments will have an incentive to develop and expand conservation easement programs, leveraging federal money to protect more farms and ranches.

"Right now, FPP is the only conservation program that targets the needs of urban-edge farmers-that's a major boost to states and their communities," Grossi said. "But the funds are not enough given the scope of the problem. I hope this infusion of funding spurs state and local governments to expand their support for farm and ranch land protection programs."

New conservation funding in the 2002 Farm Bill totals $17.1 billion, representing a 21 percent share of the $82.8 billion in new spending authorized by the bill. In a poll released last summer, however, AFT found that voters support a much higher level of conservation spending: 75 percent of voters feel that income support to the American farmer should come with the stipulation that farmers are required to apply "one or more conservation practices," such as protecting wetlands or preventing water pollution.

"The conservation package in this farm bill represents a big step in the right direction, as Congress has nearly doubled the amount of money it commits to help farmers and ranchers improve the environment, protect land and water quality, and promote biodiversity," Grossi said. "But it is only the first step in helping them meet the growing public demand for a cleaner environment."

"The gut reaction among many conservation groups has been to stop farming," said Scherr. "Where that's OK in surplus producing regions of the U.S., it's not OK in the Third World."  

Read more about "biodiversity" at "Agriculture eats away at biodiversity" from Environmental News Network.


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