by George Looby, DVM
In October the first of a series of three statewide workshops was held at the Senexet Grange in Woodstock, CT to discuss the workings of the several land trust programs existing within the state and means of achieving greater uniformity and clarity in the way in which they are presented to the land owners who may be interested in participating. This series of meetings was developed by the American Farmland Trust (ATF) in partnership with the Connecticut Land Conservation Council (CLCC) and the Connecticut Farmland Trust (CFT) to develop model easement terms and conditions to include in conservation easements that are protecting land for agricultural use.
The American Farmland Trust was founded in 1980 by a group of farmers and conservationists concerned about the loss of farmland. It is the only national conservation organization dedicated to the preservation of farmland, promoting sound farming practices and keeping farmers on the land. In the 30-plus years since its founding it has initiated and supported many innovative programs in keeping with its basic philosophy.
The Connecticut Land Conservation Council is a coalition of land trusts, statewide conservation and advocacy organizations, town open space and conservation organizations, and garden clubs all working together with the common goal of preserving open land and insuring its long term viability.
The Connecticut Farmland Trust is a private non-profit organization of concerned citizens who came together to permanently protect Connecticut farmland. Since its founding in 2002, it has protected more than 2,100 acres of farmland plus has helped in protecting nearly 1,000 acres more working together with other like minded groups and organizations. The group is focused on farmland protection only and is selective in the land that it protects funding rights to those with the best agricultural soils.
The other two workshops were held at the Sunny Valley Preserve in New Milford, CT and the other at Rosedale Farms and Vineyards in Simsbury, CT. These workshops were funded through a Connecticut Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Viability Grant and designed to gather information as well as educate and improve awareness amongst organizations, entities and individuals engaged in land conservation about easement terms and conditions, agriculture as an industry plus land use and the management and stewardship of existing and future agricultural enterprises.
Kip Kolesinskas, senior soil scientist for the American Farmland Trust, was the first speaker in the afternoon session. Kip presented some information that supports the importance and viability of agriculture in the state in 2013. Connecticut agriculture is very diversified, provides over 20,000 jobs with over 405,000 acres devoted to agricultural enterprises. It is well documented that the cost to town governments to support farmland is far less than that necessary to support residential and industrial activities. There are numerous intangibles that need consideration, including the favorable impact of farmland on ecosystems, wildlife and factors such as water and flood control.
The need for uniformity and simplicity in terminology relating to land use regulations is ever present and this workshop was designed to help address that need. Agriculture and agricultural activities must be clearly defined in any document designed to set aside a given parcel in perpetuity. Prohibited uses should be all encompassing and again clearly defined. Defining the reserved rights of grantors is another consideration that must be addressed. Any of these many factors must be considered and not arrived at hastily. Many parties with previous experience in dealing with land use issues can be invaluable resources in selecting the best terms to use.
Leasing farmland is a common practice among Connecticut farmers. Some 38 percent of Connecticut farmers lease land and the reasons for this practice are many but most often because the operation has outgrown the boundaries of the original farm and the cost of purchasing additional land is prohibitive. Landowners who are no longer farming but want to keep their land in production can benefit from leasing.
Joseph Duppel, acting director, Bureau of Agricultural Development and Resource Preservation, manages the Farmland Preservation Program for the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, a program which has been in existence since 1978, during which time 296 farms with 38,546 acres have been preserved. Joe gave the attendees an overview of the programs the department has established to encourage and support farmland preservation in the state. Another program is focused on smaller farms, those with less than 30 acres who are situated in high density agricultural activity areas and have good soil types. A third activity that has recently been instituted is a farmland restoration program which is aimed at restoring fallow farmland into productive condition. In the last 70 years there has been a reversal of the amount of forest versus farmland in the state and this program is designed to assist in reversing that trend.
Following the initial portion of the program, the group traveled to May Hill Farm located on Dugg Hill Rd. in Woodstock, CT, owned and managed by David Morse and his cousin, Jared. May Hill Farm is a dairy operation currently milking about 120 cows with plans to expand the milking herd to 150. Members of the Morse family have been farming this land for over 140 years and with the land in the farmland preservation program since 1998 it should continue for many years to come.
Uniformity in terminology in land use regulations across the state and beyond can do much to enhance and expand this most critical activity. It is to be encouraged at all levels to insure that the final product is of benefit to all.