Land Conservancies Praise New Farm Bill

Jan 31, 2014

The farm bill heading to the U.S. Senate could help farmland preservation efforts in northern Michigan. The bill allocates $1.3 billion to preserve farms over the next five years. That is similar to the last one, but the new bill includes a provision that conservancies say will make it easier to get projects done with motivated farmers.

The way farmland preservation works is farmers sell the right to develop their land. Federal dollars to purchase development rights need to be matched locally with cash. The price tags can be large. Prime farmland under development pressure in northern Michigan can cost upwards of $5,000 an acre.

In two townships in northern Michigan, Peninsula and Acme, voters have approved a local property tax that is used to match federal support. Other communities have rejected these taxes, including a proposal in Leelanau County. There is no state fund to support farmland preservation. The other way to raise the match money is through private donations.

Under the new farm bill, a farmer could donate some of the value of the land to make that local match, essentially lowering the amount needed to protect a farm.

Glen Chown is the executive director of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy and expects the cash waiver to be a huge boost to their efforts. He says his conservancy has done almost no farmland projects outside of Acme and Peninsula townships.

“The match has been a very limiting factor,” says Chown.

Chown says this change will enable them to expand their preservation work along U.S. 31 north of Acme.

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow has championed the farm bill and told the Associated Press she expects approval in the Senate now that the House has approved it. Most of the controversy centered on cuts to food assistance.