Campaign to Protect 100,000 Acres of Farmland

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

February 28th, 2011 

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Over 300 acres of fields and forests located in Penobscot will forever be available for farming. Owner Paul Birdsall placed Horsepower Farm under an agricultural easement in 1997. Photo credit Bridget Besaw

In the next ten years, the ownership of as much as 400,000 acres of Maine’s best farmland will be in transition, as aging farmers sell or die. This demographic challenge is coming just as farming here is poised to thrive.

The future of agriculture in Maine is dependent on preserving much of the farmland that will be changing hands, so that it can be put into the hands of committed farmers.

This past January, at a press event at the annual Agricultural Trade Show, Maine Farmland Trust publicly announced its campaign to protect 100,000 acres of Maine farmland by 2014.

Maine Farmland Trust will help protect farmland in various ways, including by working with landowners who wish to donate or sell easements. In addition, the Trust expects to increase the number of deals under its Buy/Protect/Sell program and through its FarmLink program, which finds new farmers to buy or lease farms that may otherwise go to nonfarm uses.

The 100,000 acre goal will not be realized by Maine Farmland Trust alone, but by a myriad of organizations working to support farming and farmland preservation. The Trust commonly partners with a large number of local and regional land trusts, as well as state and federal agencies and municipalities interested in keeping farming vital.

Altogether, protecting 100,000 acres is projected to cost $50 million. This sounds like a large sum, but the economic impact from that 100,000 acres is expected to exceed $50 million each year.

According to Taylor Mudge, a former farmer and founder of the State of Maine Cheese Company, who serves on Maine Farmland Trust’s board and is leading the fundraising campaign, this $50 million investment will pay back at least $50 million each and every year thereafter. “Not bad deal,” Mudge said at the January press conference.

What’s more, the full $50 million is not needed now. Maine Farmland Trust has set an initial goal of $10 million, which is then expected to leverage an additional $40 million over the next few years. So raising the first $10 million is what’s most critical.

Maine Farmland Trust has already secured over $5.5 million. It hopes to raise another $4 million this year. “We can only do that with more public support,” said Mudge, who urged everyone who cares about farming’s future to join Maine Farmland Trust.

More information is available at www.mainefarmlandtrust.org.