Conn. farmland disappearing; Trust seeks funds to purchase rights from farmers.
THOMPSON - Connecticut is losing 7,000 to 9,000 agricultural acres per year, according to Working Lands Alliance, a coalition for protecting Connecticut's farmland.
"This is the highest loss in the country," said Jiff Martin of the New England Field Representative of American Farmland Trust and project director of WLA at a recent regional workshop at the Thompson library on conservation options for Connecticut farmers.
If the accelerated loss continues, the remaining farmland will be gone in less than two generations, according to Connecticut Farmland Trust, a grass-roots organization that formed seven years ago. CFT is a member of the WLA coalition.
In 1944, the state had 22,000 farms and nearly everyone lived on or next to a farm, according to www.workingtheland.com. Today, the numbers are drastically lower, at 4,200 farms statewide. The plight of the Connecticut farm is the subject of a new video called "Working the Land."
About 100 people attended the meeting Jan. 11 to discuss the plight of Connecticut farmland, including state Rep. Michael L. Alberts, R-Woodstock, and Thompson Town Planner John P. Guszkowski.
Programs were outlined to ease financial burdens and provide community support.
American Farmland Trust is a national organization that works to stop the loss of farmland. AFT has been asking the General Assembly to release $18 million for the purchase of development rights from farmers, Ms. Martin said. She urged those attending to assist the group in asking legislators to release the money.
"A conservation easement is a deed restriction that landowners or farmers voluntarily place on part or all of their land," Ms. Martin explained.
Money gained from the sale of development rights can be used by farmers to pay off debt or to buy more land. Farmers at the meeting discovered that despite selling development rights, they would remain the owner of the land.
Agricultural easements that restrict the amount and type of development benefit the land owner and the easement holder, which could be the state, federal or municipal governments, or a land trust.
The AFT Windsor office may be contacted at (860) 683-4230.
Farm operations in the area have been steadily declining. At one time that was due to larger farms buying smaller ones, but the current trend shows that the land is being developed for non-farm use, according to the Eastern Connecticut Resource Conservation and Development Inc., which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Eastern RCD seeks to support revitalization of town greens, farmland and open space; it also advises development of smart town growth strategies through land-use leadership alliance training programs.
The Connecticut Department of Agriculture offers matching grants up to $50,000 to help farmers enhance operations through diversification, transition, product expansion and development of new marketing strategies. Local recipients are Woodstock's Taylor Brooke Winery, $5,662 for installation of fermenters to increase production; Wagon Road Farm and Greenhouse, South Killingly, $3,989 for greenhouse enhancement; and Brooklyn's Mik-Ran's Sugarhouse, $11,000 for sugarhouse improvement and a vacuum-tubing system.
Grants up to $50,000 are also available for municipalities for investment in education and marketing to advance local agricultural products and preservation. Recently awarded recipients are Putnam, $49,995 for construction of a permanent Farmers Market; Thompson, $20,000 for municipal GIS mapping for farmland and open space protection planning.
Agricultural viability grants also pertain to open space, affordable housing and historic properties.
The state agriculture department has also launched an interactive Web site for agricultural landowners seeking leasers and potential farmers looking for land at www.farmlink.uconn.edu.
"It's like classifieds," Ms. Martin said.
Elisabeth Moore, program director of the Connecticut Farmland Trust, said resources are available for landowners who either cannot wait or do not qualify for state funds through the Connecticut Farmland Preservation Program, a program of the state Department of Agriculture. There is a waiting list for government assistance.
CFT is the only private statewide conservation organization dedicated to protecting Connecticut's farmland. Based in Hartford, CFT works with towns, land trusts and individual donors to leverage state and federal funding.
For more information, visit www.ctfarmland.org or call (860) 247-0202.
Changes in the 2006 federal tax law allow a deduction up to 50 percent of adjusted gross income for conservation easements, Ms. Moore said. Previously, a 30 percent deduction was allowed.
There is another incentive for donors. They are allowed to carry over deductions for their contribution for as many as 15 years. It used to be five years.
Also, farmers are able to deduct 100 percent of their adjusted gross income. Stipulations have expanded to accommodate low-income farmers, Ms. Moore said.
"The previous tax breaks for voluntary conservation agreements used to benefit the wealthy," she said.
This particular federal tax code is in effect until the end of the year, Ms. Moore said, but there's no guarantee it would be renewed.
CUTLINE: Farmland and homes dot the landscape along Dugg Hill Road in Woodstock.
PHOTOG: T&G Staff/DAN GOULD