The PlanSector


Goal 2

More farmland and prime farmland soils will be permanently protected.

Image courtesy of Just Roots

The APR Program is one of the oldest farmland protection programs in the country, and is complemented by two other land protection tools – the State’s conservation tax credit and its Community Preservation Act (CPA). Even with these tools, just a little over 14 percent of the State’s land in farms is permanently protected.1

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  1. 2.1 Develop a formal state Farmland Action Plan to (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 should 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 Plan should review rates of farmland loss and conversion determine the percentage of eligible acres currently enrolled in Chapter 61A, and identify threats to the Commonwealth’s farmland base, including conversion of farmland to solar development and threats to agricultural productivity as a result of climate change. The Plan should identify areas of agricultural importance and areas with potential suitability for future food production, including those in urban areas, and include an inventory of farmland owned by the state, counties (such as correctional facility, municipalities, former state hospital lands and other underutilized state-owned lands) and public utilities, identifying parcels that are currently in agricultural use or suitable for agricultural use based on an assessment of soils and other land characteristics. The Plan should set measurable goals related to farmland resources in the Commonwealth and recommend a means for measuring progress against those goals. The Plan should be formally adopted by the Commonwealth, and used to guide state policies and investments related to public infrastructure, agricultural infrastructure, climate change mitigation and adaptation, farmland protection, and farmland mitigation.
    1. Actions:
    2. 2.1.1 Establish a legislatively-appointed task force to develop a state Farmland Action Plan, and provide necessary funding for its development. Members of the task force should include representatives of state agencies, farm and conservation organizations, University of Massachusetts, and other academic institutions with expertise in agricultural land data analysis, modeling, and mapping, regional planning agencies, and USDA-NRCS.
  2. 2.2 Increase the use of Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) as a farmland protection tool.
    1. Actions:
    2. 2.2.1 Create a statewide TDR credit bank and seek startup funding to get it established.
    3. 2.2.2 Clarify through statute that municipalities may develop regional Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) programs, as has been suggested in versions of state zoning reform legislation.
    4. 2.2.3 Update the TDR model in the EOEEA toolkit and provide interested communities with technical assistance on how to implement TDR in their town or municipality.
  3. 2.3 Increase the pace of farmland protection through the APR Program, including small, productive farmland parcels, especially in eastern MA and those on the edges of population centers.
    1. Actions:
    2. 2.3.1 Fully expend existing bond authorizations provided for the APR Program in the 2008 and 2014 Environmental Bond by 2018, and establish an annual bond cap that allows maximum leveraging of federal farmland protection funds. Increase funding for the APR Program in the next Environmental Bond consistent with goals set in the Farmland Action Plan. See Recommendation 2.1.
    3. 2.3.2 Create dedicated APR funding specifically for projects not eligible for NRCS’ Agricultural Land Easement (ALE) program.
    4. 2.3.3 Increase the APR program’s current per-acre cap.
    5. 2.3.4 Task the ALPC with reviewing current APR program policies related to housing, farm infrastructure, the 5% impervious surface limit, and limits on renewable energy production if sited away from productive agricultural lands, and recommending changes as appropriate.
    6. 2.3.5 Work with USDA-NRCS to include in the state Farmland Action Plan any elements needed to enable the Plan to be used as an alternative pathway for ALE program eligibility. See Recommendation 2.1.
    7. 2.3.6 Allow pre-acquisitions of farmland through the ALE and APR program.
    8. 2.3.7 Eliminate the requirement that land be in active agricultural use for 2 years to be eligible for the APR program.
    9. 2.3.8 Support revisions to the Community Preservation Act that will provide additional funding to the Trust. Encourage communities to adopt the CPA, which provides funding streams for open space protection (including agricultural land) and affordable housing, as well as recreation and historic preservation.
    10. 2.3.9 Provide technical assistance to town Community Preservation Committees, Agricultural Commissions and land trusts about how CPA funds can be used to support farmland protection, as well as affordable housing associated with farmland.
    11. 2.3.10 Increase the state conservation tax credit, currently at $2 million annually, to $5 million annually, and improve its use with the APR Program.
  4. 2.4 Evaluate and consider the elimination of state capital gains tax on the sale of Agricultural Preservation Restrictions.
    1. Actions:
  5. 2.5 Improve dialogue and information sharing among and between farm and conservation organizations, the Agricultural Land Preservation Committee (ALPC), and state and federal agencies about farmland protection issues and challenges.
    1. Actions:
    2. 2.5.1 Task MDAR and the ALPC with convening an annual forum to evaluate progress through the APR Program and to invite stakeholder input on APR program policies.
    3. 2.5.2 Establish a coalition of agriculture, conservation, forestry, and smart growth organizations to work together and with the ALPC and state and federal agencies to identify and take action on common issues and priorities around farmland protection.