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
Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) is a zoning tool used successfully in other parts of the country that would be a valuable addition to the Massachusetts toolbox. Although there are some municipalities that allow for TDRs, few are using it to its full potential.
Two aspects of the APR program limit its ability to protect land important for food production – the per-acre price cap, and the five-acre acreage minimum. The per-acre price cap has made APR projects especially challenging in the eastern half of the Commonwealth, especially in communities without the CPA to augment APR funding. The five-acre threshold is a barrier to preserving the type of small parcels valuable to startup farm enterprises or serving urban markets.
State funding for the APR program has declined in recent years; increased State support for the program will become increasingly important to make up for declining dollars through the federal Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), whose rules also make protection of certain types of farmland problematic. Increasing State resources for land protection through the CPA and the conservation tax credit will also help to leverage municipal and private resources for farmland protection. Additionally, other State and federal programs should be explored for permanent protection of open space for community farms and gardens.
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 is being recommended to 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.