As the 2023 legislative session accelerates in the Connecticut State Legislature, WLA continues to prioritize our farmers and working lands. This is the first legislative session since the beginning of 2020 where the public can testify in person. While legislators and staff adjust to going back to normal, the ripple effects of the pandemic do not go unnoticed.
On January 4th, 2023, Governor Lamont was sworn into his second term as Governor. His 2023 State of State Address focused on the continued recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. It Also marked the first day of a long session, meaning the legislature will be determining the upcoming bi-annual state budget, and the session runs from January to June. While the General Assembly welcomed 36 new legislators, they also grieved the loss of Representative Q Williams, who worked hard for the people of Middletown and was committed to making Connecticut a better place.
Working Lands Alliance is optimistic that this session’s hybrid model, which means the public will be able to testify in-person and virtually, will allow for more participation in the public hearing process. Building off last year’s successes and focusing on some administrative policy changes, WLA is working with legislators to continue advancing climate-smart agriculture and improve the Department of Agriculture’s Farmland Preservation Program.
WLA also has a new Policy Associate, Robin Kerber, who will be helping us in the halls of the Capital to advance farmland protection and promote climate-smart agriculture and agricultural viability.
What is currently at play in Connecticut?
Farmland Protection and Access Legislation
Working Lands Alliance’s core mission is ensuring that our state’s farmland protection program is fully functioning. The program is funded through lump sum bonding and the Community Investment Act (CIA). Because it is a new year with a new legislature, the CIA sent this letter to the legislature earlier this session. We outlined the importance of keeping the CIA intact and how every municipality has leveraged the funding. This letter also shows how CIA funding has benefited the state’s farmland protection program.
WLA also worked with Representative Maria Horn to introduce H.B. 5580 — An Act Concerning the Authority of the Commissioner of Agriculture to Purchase Certain Farmland at Agriculture Value. This bill would allow the CT Department of Agriculture to utilize the Option to Purchase at Agricultural Value (OPAV) Tool. OPAV incentives the sale of protected farmland from one farmer to another. Implementing this tool in Connecticut would support farmland affordability and increase farmland access opportunities for new and beginning producers.WLA put together this helpful one-pager that outlines why passing this legislation will create affordable farmland opportunities for farmers. This legislation was not raised to be drafted before the Committee deadline which means this bill will not advance this session. There may be opportunities for it to be included in a larger proposal. However, if that does not happen, WLA will continue to fight for OPAV in future legislative sessions.
Farmland Protection Administrative Changes
The CT Department of Agriculture’s Farmland Preservation Program Regulations that guide how the State determines application criteria for farms that want to place an agricultural conservation easement on their land are up for review through the State’s e-regulations system. These important regulations that will determine how the CT Department of Agriculture will rank incoming farmland protection proposals have not been updated since 1993. Furthermore, this is the first time that the CT Community Farms Preservation Program will have regulations. Public comments on these important regulations changes will be accepted through the e-regulations system until March 10, 2023.
During the 2022 legislative session, WLA successfully advocated for the CT Department of Agriculture’s Farmland Restoration program to pay farmers to implement climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices. The *new* program was supported by an initial one-time $7 million allocation to the agency. This program was established in alignment with recommendations released in the Governor’s Council on Climate Change. An additional $7 million in bond funding was passed as part of the FY 2023 budget amendment but has not been placed by the Governor’s Office to be included on a State Bond Commission agenda and approved to be authorized.
Additionally, the Farmland Restoration and Climate Resiliency statute still includes a provision that caps every project at $20,000 and does not require a farmer to provide matching funds. H.B. 6725: An Act Revising Certain Farming and Aquaculture Programs of the Department of Agriculture will remove the $20,000 cap and require a farmer to provide a match. WLA supports this provision within the bill.
However, WLA asked that the legislature strike the word “federal” from this critical statute update. Farming in Connecticut is already difficult and expensive, and implementing climate-smart agricultural practices can be a time-consuming addition to a farmer’s already full plate. Requiring a farmer to furnish even a ten percent match can be prohibitive.
You can read WLA’s full testimony on H.B. 6725 here.
Solar Siting on Farmland
American Farmland Trust (AFT), in partnership with AgriSolar Consulting, released “Smart Solar in Connecticut: Farmer Survey Findings & Initial Recommendations,” a report which presents farmer perspectives on smart solar on Connecticut farmland. Through a statewide survey, AFT captured the interests, priorities, and concerns related to solar on farmland from nearly 200 farmers and farmland owners throughout Connecticut. AFT also engaged solar developers and state agencies to assess the challenges and opportunities for solar on farmland, ensuring input from diverse stakeholders.
Last week, in alignment with the recommendations outlined within this report, WLA submitted testimony in support of H.B. 5608 – An Act Concerning Certain Solar Photovoltaic Facilities Located on Prime Farmland, Farmland of State-Wide Importance or Core Forest Lands. You can view WLA’s testimony on this bill here.
If passed, this legislation would require developers to be approved by the Siting Council on prime farmland to post a decommissioning bond sufficient to restore the farmland to a productive agricultural condition. WLA recognizes that some solar developers are already doing this as a best practice and may agree to pay for the decommissioning of a solar array based on its size, location, and complexity. According to a 2020 New England Farmland Solar Policy Brief by American Farmland Trust, H.B. 5608 would align Connecticut with the four other New England states that already require decommissioning for farmland solar.
We are optimistic that the 2023 legislative session will cultivate many wins for our agricultural producers across the state.
Testimony Submitted by WLA this session
- H.B. 6483: Funding for the Open Space and Watershed Acquisition Program — Check out WLA’s testimony here.
- H.B. 6659 – An Act Concerning the State Budget for the Biennium Ending June 30, 2025, and Making Appropriations Therefor. Securing Funding for CT Grown for CT Kids.
- H.B. 5918 — An Act Authorizing Grocery Stores to Sell Cider and Winery Wines. If passed, this would create new market opportunities for CT Cider and Wine Producers