March 26, 2018
Massachusetts’ Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Program is one of the oldest state farmland protection programs in the country. Enacted in 1977, the program targets the most productive soils and purchases perpetual easements that assure the land will be available for farming for generations to come.
Since the program’s inception, provisions have been added that work to keep farmland affordable. These first took the form of a “Right of First Refusal” (ROFR) and have shifted over time to be “Options to Purchase at Agricultural Value” (OPAV). These provisions require that landowners first offer the property for sale to the Commonwealth at its agricultural value, prior to selling a restricted property on the open market.
Several recent incidents surrounding the administration of ROFRs and OPAVs and a number of other administrative decisions have caused concern among landowners, farm and conservation organizations, and policymakers. As a consequence, the Department of Agricultural Resources, the agency that oversees the APR Program, has undertaken an extensive review of the program’s policies and administration through a series of stakeholder listening sessions. Three sessions have already occurred, and a fourth is planned for April 4.
Several legislators have filed bills to reform the program. One such bill, S.2175, has garnered significant attention and seeks to make significant changes to the APR program in a number of ways. Many organizations, including the MA Food System Collaborative, support fixing the underlying issues that led to this legislation, but fear that S.2175 as written could jeopardize the integrity of the APR Program. We have suggested changes that would require more public involvement in the development of rules and regulations for the program, clarify currently ambiguous language, and ensure that landowners would not be forced to sell property without their consent.
The Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan states that: “Farmland is the foundational infrastructure for the State’s Agricultural Industry. It is a natural resource critical to the State’s air and water quality, and vital to our community character and heritage. For most farm families, it is the source of their income and their primary retirement asset.” We continue to work with legislators and other stakeholders to assure the success of the Commonwealth’s farmland protection tools as prioritized in the Plan.