Philip James Jones, the founder of Jones Family Farm in Shelton, CT, famously said: “Be good to the land, and the land will be good to you.”
This sentiment remained true during the 2022 legislative session as WLA pursued ambitious legislation that would improve the quality of farmland soils and farmers’ ability to adapt to the impacts of climate change. The fruits of our labor over the past few legislative sessions (2019-2021) resulted in many historic wins for farmland and producers across the state.
At the same time, with the high cost of farmland in Connecticut and the continued need to protect our most valuable land from development, in this moment of celebration, we must continue to fight to expedite farmland protection and increase farmland access opportunities for future generations.
2022 Policy Wins for WLA
This year was a short session, meaning the legislature and the Governor passed legislation that strengthened current state statutes and adjusted the FY 2023 budget adopted after the 2021 legislative session.
Because of the agriculture and conservation communities’ efforts working in fierce cooperation and the continued support of our advocates, WLA was pleased to see the budget adjustments were extremely favorable to agriculture and land conservation. Here is a breakdown of where this appears in the final 673-page budget:
Funding for Climate-Smart Agriculture:
The final budget language included S.B. 243– An Act Concerning Climate-Smart Agricultural Practices which the Working Lands Alliance worked diligently with the legislature to introduce this session.
- Page 184, Line 3793, Sec. 154. Section 22-6c updates the CT Farmland Restoration Grant Program. The program will now be called the CT Farmland Restoration and Climate Resiliency Grant Program. The program was also updated to do the following:
- Pay farmers to implement climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices, including paying for farm equipment
- Includes paying nonprofits, conservation districts; the University of Connecticut; or municipalities to provide technical assistance and various soil health-related programming.
- Pays farmers up to 50% in advance or reimburses farmers to create and implement a farmland restoration and climate resiliency plans
- Specifically states that funding can be used to support urban communities
Up to $14 million in funding for Climate-Smart Agriculture
- Page 65, Lines 383-385, Item 70 reads that up to $7 million in general funding for the fiscal year ending on June 30, 2023, will be directed at the CT Department of Agriculture to support climate-smart farming.
- Page 439, Line 11729, reads that the bond commission shall authorize grants-in-aid for farmland restoration and climate resiliency, not exceeding $7 million, to the CT Department of Agriculture.
Please see WLA’s press release celebrating this historic win here.
Funding for Food Systems
The budget also includes a few provisions that will support growing CT’s local food system:
- Page 31, Line T974 increases the amount of American Rescue Act Funding that is allocated to the Farm-to-School Grant program from $250,000 to $500,000 in FY 2023.
- Page 439, Line 11729 directs the CT Department of Agriculture to provide grants-in-aid to food resource organizations for capital improvements, not exceeding $10 million in bond funding – please note that this could potentially include funding for farms.
Funding for Land Conservation and CT Forests
- Page 458, Line 12315 directs the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to provide grants-in-aid for the open space land acquisition and development for conservation or recreational purposes not exceeding $15 million in bond funding.
- Page 54, Line 105 provides additional general funding of up to $2.5 million for deposit into the passport to the parks account established pursuant to section 23-15h of the general statutes for each of the fiscal years ending June 30, 2022, and June 30, 2023.
The Community Investment Act
While the Community Investment Act stayed mostly intact this past session, the legislature diverted key funding from the Farmland Preservation Program, CT Grown, and the Farm Viability Grant Program to support farmers in implementing manure management practices. We will be seeking additional revenue sources in the next legislative session to ensure these programs are fully funded to support the needs of CT producers.
We saw a small win for the farmland protection efforts this session by by opposing adding an unnecessary step to the State’s Farmland Preservation Program application review process. H.B. 5491: An Act Concerning the State Properties Review Board threatened to add the State Properties Review Board as an additional step to state land acquisition programs, including the CT Farmland Protection Program, the Community Farms Preservation Program, and land acquisition programs administered by the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. As the cost of land continues to rise in Connecticut, having systems in place that protect prime farmland and provide resources to emerging farmers is crucial. Adding a State Properties Review Board evaluation would add an unnecessary step to this process, making it more difficult to protect small farms and promote land access opportunities.
Agricultural Viability and Innovation
The Governor’s Council on Agricultural Development (GCAD) was updated in the passage of H.B. 5295: An Act Concerning Agriculture Development and Innovation. One of the provisions within the bill updates the Governor’s Council on Agricultural Development (GCAD)to do the following:
- Changes the name of the council to be the Governor’s Council for Agricultural Development and Innovation
- Will be housed in the CT Department of Agriculture for administrative purposes only
- Will update the membership of the Council to include someone from the Urban Agriculture Community and a farmer who identifies as Socially Disadvantaged, among other provisions.
- The council is charged with making recommendations to the state by developing innovative market opportunities including, but not limited to, urban agriculture, integration and adoption of new technologies, controlled environment agriculture and diversification of products and opportunities.
There’s Always Next Year…
Our advocacy efforts in 2021 proved to be fruitful; however, our work is far from over. Not all of the provisions and policies that we fought for this session passed.
Ensuring Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in prioritized in all of CT DoAg. Grant Programs
Understanding the need for the state to prioritize producers who have historically had limited access to state grant programs, the CT Department of Agriculture created the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Working Group. The goal of the working group and four sub-committees (Access to Securing Land Tenure, Access to Education and Training, Market Access and Diversification, and Access to Resources and Capital) is to engage and support current and future farmers and those in the agriculture industry who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in the state.Working Lands Alliance is honored to be represented on the core committee and on the Securing Land Tenure Sub-Committee.
This year, WLA worked hard to include language in S.B. 243 that states that the agency prioritizes socially disadvantaged producers in the state’s new Farmland Restoration and Climate Resiliency grant program. Unfortunately, this provision was not included in the final bill language that was signed into law by Governor Lamont. However, the CT Department of Agriculture has committed that they will continue to prioritize socially disadvantaged producers in the new grant program. WLA will work with the agency and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion working group to ensure this happens during the implementation of the new grant program.
Creating Farmland Access Opportunities For Young And Beginning Farmers
With the support of the Farmland Preservation Advisory Board, WLA approached the CT State Legislature’s Environment Committee and asked that legislation be introduced to implement the Option to Purchase at Agricultural Value in the State.
The Option to Purchase at Agricultural Value (OPAV) will present farmer landowners with an additional option that creates opportunities for the next generations of farmers, strengthens existing agricultural conservation easements, and provides the selling landowners with additional financial compensation as well as more confidence that their farm legacy will continue. An OPAV is a voluntary legal agreement that restricts the sale of land to only certain farmers or to family members and restricts the sale price to agricultural value (versus the higher fair market value). Once farmland has an Option to Purchase at Agriculture value, its value is usually lowered. This is because the land can no longer be sold to all willing buyers and must be sold at its agricultural value to a qualified farmer or a family member.
WLA will work closely with the CT General Assembly next year to ensure this important provision is introduced next legislative session.
Furthering Farmland Protection in the State
The CT Department of Agriculture is currently working on updating the regulations for the State’s Farmland Preservation Program. WLA looks forward to providing public comment on these regulations when they are posted to the State eRegulation system and made available for public comment.
WLA also looks forward to supporting the CT Green Bank in implementing the agency’s new “Environmental Infrastructure” fund that has the potential to support agriculture and land conservation.
Finally, WLA was pleased to see that Governor Lamont’s Executive 21-3 directs CT DoAg. to do the following, “accelerate and streamline the process to protect working lands with a goal of closing on properties within two years and doubling the number of easements closed in four years. Evaluate program challenges needed to achieve these goals, while including equity, adaptation, mitigation, and resiliency elements.”
WLA looks forward to pursuing legislation that will expedite the pace of farmland preservation efforts in the state next session.
We want to thank the legislature for acting on several of our priorities this session. We are inspired by your dedication to farmland preservation, the Community Investment Act, farmland access, climate-smart agriculture, and farm viability for Connecticut’s farm community.
WLA Submitted Testimony on the following bills this session:
H.B. 5037– An Act Adjusting the State Budget for the Biennium Ending June 30, 2023 – Conditional Support
General Administration and Elections Committee