As I reflect on WLA’s work the past six months, I am reminded of my many conversations with Terry. On my commute to the Capitol to advocate for farmland preservation and farm viability, Terry would be starting his day in the fields. As we strategized how we would engage the new administration, including hosting an ice cream social in the middle of March and planning farm tours for legislators, Terry would remind me I was headed to “my field” and that this legislative session we were planting the seeds in hopes that we will be able to have a bountiful harvest for our issues next year.
This held to be true in the last days of the legislative session, where much of our tireless work came to fruition. With that being said, we were able to have a small harvest we are confident will sustain us until the next session.
2019 Policy Wins for WLA
CIA Funding and the FY 2020 Budget
This year’s session ended at midnight on June 5 and was a long session, meaning the legislature and the governor passed the bi-annual budget for the next two fiscal years FY 2020 and FY 2021. WLA was pleased to see the budget was favorable to agriculture including adding funding for the Department of Agriculture. The Community Investment Act, or CIA, remains intact because of the Appropriations Committees work ensuring that the CIA remains its own standalone, off-budget account. In some of the first drafts of the budget, the CIA was moved to become part of the general fund which makes it more susceptible to sweeps. NOTE: the final budget does include a transfer of $1.5 million from the CIA account to the Agricultural Sustainability Account. The CIA Coalition is working to clarify what this will mean for the other four sectors (open space, farmland, historic preservation, and affordable housing).
A Hemp Program for Connecticut
WLA testified in support of SB 893 – An Act Concerning a Pilot Program for Hemp Production.
We strongly supported the Governor’s commitment to passing a USDA approved hemp program in the state this session and were pleased to see the governor’s commitment in the budget by investing in funding that creates additional personnel to develop and regulate a hemp program at both the Department of Agriculture and the CT Agricultural Experiment Station. Since this bill was signed into law by Governor Ned Lamont on May 8, 2019, the department of agriculture has received over 120 applications to grow hemp in the state.
Current bonding balances will continue to provide ample funding for the Farmland Preservation Program through FY 2020. WLA will seek new bond authorizations for the program in next year’s session.
Addressing Farmland Access Opportunities and Succession Planning
WLA led efforts to pass SB 1063 – An Act Establishing a Task Force to Improve Farmland Availability for Beginning Farmers. This bill is important because, over the next 20 years, 371 million acres of farmland (41% of all farmland) in the United States is expected to change hands. The average age of principal farm operators in Connecticut is 58 years old and many of these farmers are looking to transition their farm operations to new ownership. According to a 2016 report written by American Farmland Trust, “Keeping Farmers on the Land,” over 92% of Connecticut’s 1,892 senior farmers do not have a young (under 45) farm operator working with them. While this does not mean that these farmers do not have a succession plan, it suggests that the future of many of these farms is uncertain. At the same time, according to a 2018 report written by the National Young Farmers Coalition, “Building a Future with Farmers,” the biggest issue facing young and beginning farmers in our country is access to land tenure.
While this piece of legislation did not pass this session, our new Commissioner of Agriculture Bryan Hurlburt and the Department of Agriculture are committed to convening a farmland access working group this summer to configure current programs and policies that address land access and succession, identify gaps, and produce a report with policy and programming solutions for the Connecticut General Assembly Environment Committee by next legislative session.. This is a big win for beginning farmers/farmland succession planning in the state and we look forward to assisting the department with these efforts.
There’s Always Next Year…
While we celebrate our 2019 policy victories like many farmers, we felt the impacts of a tough session and there were several of our policy priorities that were not acted on this session. We will continue to advocate for them in the next session.
Creating tax incentives for farmers to sell their development rights
WLA worked with Senator Eric Berthel on SB 208 – An Act Exempting from the Personal Income Tax Proceeds from the Sale of Agricultural Land Development Rights to the State. This legislation would have further encouraged farmers to sell their development rights as the personal income tax exemption would allow them to preserve liquidity from the sale which can be used to reinvest in the farm, pay down debt, or just build a stronger liquidity/working capital position for the farm. All of these are key to the continued growth of a farm and creating a strong and vibrant agriculture industry, allowing the farm to better withstand the seasonality of agriculture and variability of the market and weather.
By taxing landowners on the proceeds of the sale of an agricultural conservation easement, the current state tax code discourages farmers who want to protect their land in perpetuity. It also impacts state and local investments in farmland protection and the amount of farmland that is affordable for beginning farmers.
A Local Option Municipal Open Space and Working Lands Funding Mechanism
If enacted, HB 5254 would have allowed (but not required) towns and municipalities, including Bolton, Bozrah, Bloomfield, Bethany, Coventry, Hartford, Lyme, New London, Norfolk, North Stonington, and Warren, to establish a dedicated fund to acquire, preserve, and steward open space and farmland at the municipal level by including a conveyance fee of up to 1% paid by buyers of real estate property. Municipalities across Connecticut need innovative ways to create options to fund land use projects and farmland preservation efforts. To reach the state’s goal of protecting 130,000 acres of farmland, Connecticut’s communities can and will need to be more active partners in this effort. This pilot program would give participating towns a tool to do that, enabling them to leverage state funds through the Farmland Preservation or Community Farms programs, and federal funds through USDA’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. It would also enable towns to prioritize the land that the local community, including its farmers, feels is most important to protect.
Finally, we want to thank the legislature for acting on several of our priorities this session. We are sincerely inspired by your dedication to farmland preservation, the Community Investment Act, farmland access, and farm viability for Connecticut’s farm community.
WLA Submitted Testimony on:
- SB 208 – An Act Exempting from the Personal Income Tax Proceeds from the Sale of Agricultural Land Development Rights to the State
- SB 598 – An Act Concerning the Production of Hemp in Connecticut
- SB 893 – An Act Concerning the Enforcement Plan for Hemp Production
- SB 1061 – An Act Concerning the Restoration of Funds to the Community Investment Act
- SB 1063 – An Act Establishing a Task Force to Improve Farmland Availability for Beginning Farmers
- SB 1137 – An Act Concerning Deposits in Lieu of Taxes
- SB 1138 – An Act Concerning Community Investment Funds
- HB 5254 – An Act Establishing a Pilot Program Authorizing Municipalities to Impose a Buyer’s Conveyance Fee on Real Property to Fund the Purchase and Stewardship of Open Space
- HB 5481 – An Act Implementing the Legislation of Industrial Hemp
- HB 7408 – Section 6 – An Act Concerning Municipal Revenue and Stormwater Authority, Studies of the Pilot Grants Program and a Property Tax Exemption for Machinery and Equipment, and Enterprise Zones
- HB 7148 – An Act Concerning the State Budget for the Biennium Ending June 13th, 2021 and Making Appropriations Therefore.