Massachusetts farmers steward about 523,517 acres of cropland, pasture, wetlands, and woodlands that filter water, reduce flooding, recharge aquifers, and provide year-round habitat for many species of fish and wildlife and stopovers for migrating birds. Woodlands, pasture, hay fields, and cropland not tilled annually also act as a carbon “sink,” sequestering carbon dioxide and helping to curtail global warming. Farmers are important caretakers of our natural resources, and should be supported in and recognized for this stewardship role.
While State and federal conservation programs provide cost-share assistance for practices around soil health, nutrient management, water quality and quantity, energy efficiency and renewable energy, and other conservation objectives, there is not enough technical assistance available through USDA-NRCS or conservation districts to educate farmers and landowners about these programs, and to do the planning to implement contracted practices. Many smaller-scale farmers, as well as urban and beginning farmers, are not aware of the types of assistance available. Funding for these programs fluctuates yearly, and changes in the last Farm Bill to the federal “regional equity” may result in fewer federal conservation dollars to Massachusetts.
Carbon markets may offer potential “green” income to farmers. Both public and private markets continue to develop, but on-farm carbon sequestration has been difficult to quantify. Further research is needed to understand how Massachusetts farms might develop quantifiable offset projects. See Inputs Goals for more on healthy environment-related recommendations and actions.