Agriculture Legislation on the Move
On May 5th, the Senate passed An Act promoting agriculture in the Commonwealth (SB2286) and several of the 30 provisions are of interest to land trusts, including changes to Chapter 61A which would allow noncontiguous parcels of a farm to be considered together; changes to the estate tax rules that would reduce estate tax rates on farms; provisions supporting community gardens on appropriate Department of Conservation and Recreation land; provisions supporting farmers markets; provisions allowing agricultural commissions to hold land and to prepare plans; a pollinator protection commission; and a Farmland Action Plan and Protection and Viability Advisory Commission. The bill now goes to the House. Many of the provisions in the legislation are also in the recently completed Massachusetts Food System Plan.
The Farmland Action Plan was also included in the House budget by amendment, and will be offered as an amendment to the upcoming Senate budget by Senator Anne Gobi. Why a Farmland Action Plan? Lack of reliable statewide data around farmland trends prevents the development and tracking of meaningful targets around farmland retention, protection and access. A formal state Farmland Action Plan would improve state data collection around farmland and establish formal farmland protection goals and benchmarks, providing a better roadmap for state investments in farmland protection in the future. The Plan will: (1) determine the resources needed to improve state data collection around farmland trends; (2) establish a statewide baseline of land in active agricultural production, or the process for doing so with improved data collection, and a system for tracking acres of farmland in production over time; (3) set measurable goals and benchmarks related to farmland protection, retention and access; and (4) recommend state program spending levels to meet those goals and benchmarks. The Plan would consider the regional land use plans that have been undertaken by various Regional Planning Agencies and Councils of Governments, and any available assessments, modelling or scenario planning that predicts future land use patterns, needs or threats.
The Trustees of Reservations, American Farmland Trust, the Massachusetts Farm Bureau have been working to further the Plan. For more information, contact The Trustees Director of Policy, Jen Ryan.