Farmland Access Task Force Continues to Work on Multiple Projects
The Farmland Access Task Force has been busy the last several months working on a diverse set of projects pertaining to: farmland search tools, coordinating direct technical assistance on farmland access, financing for farmland, and the effects of commercial solar projects on farmland and farmland access.
Many members of the Task Force are also participating in the New England-wide "Land Access Project": http://landforgood.org/our-work/projects/land-access-project-phase-2/. This includes a regional Task Force focused on "Listing and Linking" efforts to help farmers find and secure land. This Task Force is being Chaired by Ben Waterman of the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture.
In the meanwhile, the VT F2P Task Force is meeting close to monthly to have discussions specifically about how to improve listing and linking efforts here in VT, while keeping aware of, and contributing to, the regional efforts. In a related activity, the coordination of the Vermont Land Link website and search tool http://vermontlandlink.org/ will be moving from UVM to the Intervale Center on an interim basis with Stacy Burnstein taking over coordination for Ben Waterman. Together, members of the VT F2P Task Force are providing input and seeking funding for maintaining and improving this effort.
In 2015, UVM, the Intervale, Land For Good, and RAFFL secured a Working Lands Grant to provide more direct service and education to farm seekers, and to better coordinate the activities of these organizations. Over the last year, these organizations have provided enhanced support to several farm seekers and also conducted 3 very well attended Farmland Access Workshops in Danby, Shelburne, and most recently in April, White River Junction.
Also in April, Task Force members representing the VT Land Trust, the VT Housing and Conservation Board, the Intervale Center, and Land For Good accepted an invitation from the VT Food Funders Network to come speak to them about the needs associated with farmland access. They were very well received by this group.
One last issue that the Task Force spent some time on starting last Fall was examining the effects of commercial solar projects on farmland and farmland access. It has been observed that commercial solar projects are not required to conform to the same requirements as Act 250. And, while in theory, these developments could be removed, and the ag land restored if the project is built properly, there is no requirement that these solar projects be discontinued at the end of their orginal certificate of public good; the owners can simply apply to renew, and it seems likely that economics will favor continued solar use at the expense of agricultural uses being fully restored. Additionally, solar projects provide favorable lease payments per acre of land, at times making it difficult for farmers to compete with solar developers for the lease or purchase of agricultural land.
The Task Force engaged in a number of discussions in the Fall of 2015 about policy development around solar development on agricultural land, especially prime agricultural soils, within the context of the activities of the State Solar Siting Task Force. Since the State Siting Task Force has completed its work, the Farmland Access Task Force has been monitoring activities in the legislature including the progress oF S.230, the main bill to move forward on the subject: http://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2016/S.230