WASHINGTON—Senator Peter Welch (D-VT) and Senator Angus King (I-ME) today introduced the Farmland Access Act, legislation that will help protect American farmland for its intended use and expand access to farming for the next generation. The bill updates an existing, but underutilized, program within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that allows land trusts to purchase farmland, place an easement on the land, and transfer ownership to another farmer or rancher who can maintain the land as a working farm or ranch. Under the Farmland Access Act, these kinds of transactions would be smoother and more efficient.
“Farms are the heart of Vermont’s economy, ecology, culture, and identity, and, for most Vermonters, the thought of losing our farmland is unthinkable. But without stronger federal protections, we’re in danger of losing farmlands across the United States and the environmental benefits that come with them, and we risk a future where young farmers can’t build successful farms of their own,” said Sen. Welch. “I’m proud to join Sen. King to introduce the Farmlands Access Act toensure farmland stays farmland and help young farmers acquire and maintain our agricultural lands for generations to come.”
“Maine farmland has fed our state’s communities and powered our economy for generations,” said Sen. King. “As many Maine farmers look to hang up their hats and enjoy a well-deserved retirement, the Farmland Access Act would help pass down their critical agricultural lands to the next generation. By improving on existing federal programs, this commonsense bill will make it easier to preserve farmland before it is eventually sold to aspiring young farmers at an affordable price. I‘m excited to partner with Senator Welch on this legislation, and hope it is included in the upcoming Farm Bill to secure the future of farms in Maine, Vermont, and across the country.”
The American Farmland Trust estimates that the United States has lost more than 11 million acres of farmland to development over the last 20 years. In 2017, the average American farmer was 57.5 years old.
“At a time of record farmland prices, the dream of land ownership has never been further out of reach for so many aspiring farmers and ranchers,” said Tim Fink, Policy Director for American Farmland Trust. “This legislation would offer a new pathway to affordable land ownership for next generation producers, while protecting the farm and ranch land vital to the future of agriculture.”
“The Conservation Fund is dedicated to supporting the next generation of farmers while protecting farmland in critical locations across our nation,” said Larry Selzer, president and CEO of The Conservation Fund. “On behalf of the Fund, I applaud U.S. Senators Welch and King for introducing legislation to ensure that nongovernmental organizations – such as land trusts – can utilize a buy-protect-sell transaction model within the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program to help the next generation of farmers acquire protected farmland at an affordable price.”
Through changes to the USDA’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program – Agricultural Land Easement (ACEP-ALE) program, The Farmland Access Act will make it easier for younger and disadvantaged farmers to purchase and maintain farmland and, in so doing, protect the land from development. The bill will also help younger people become farmers and ranchers.
To read the text of the bill, please click here.