American Farmland Trust
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The American Farmland Trust (AFT) is an organization that was founded in 1980 to protect farmland and ranch land in the United States, promote environmentally sound farming practices and keep farmers on the land.
AFT is staffed by farmers, policy experts, researchers and scientists, and governed by a board of directors. Headquarters are in Washington, D.C., with satellite offices in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Washington state. AFT also runs the Farmland Information Center in Northampton, Massachusetts and the Center for Agriculture in the Environment in Dekalb, Illinois.
AFT’s mission is to protect farmland, promote sound farming practices and keep farmers on the land.
Farmers and ranchers founded AFT in 1980, partly in response to the 1979 report of the National Agricultural Lands Study, titled Where Have the Farm Lands Gone? The organization has worked to pass state laws and local ordinances intended to enable the preservation of farmland.
Since AFT’s founding in 1980 by a group of farmers and citizens concerned about the rapid loss of farmland to development, the organization has helped save millions of acres of farmland from development and led the way for establishing sound environmental practices on millions more.
- 1979: The National Agricultural Lands Study releases the report Where Have the Farm Lands Gone?
- 1980: A group of farmers and conservationists concerned about farmland loss found AFT
- 1981: Passage of the federal Farmland Protection Policy Act in the 1981 Farm Bill
- 1982: Four states have authorized Purchase of Development Rights/Purchase Agricultural Conservation Easements (PDR/PACE) programs
- 1985: AFT publishes Soil Conservation in America: What Do We Have to Lose?, which leads to the creation of the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in the 1985 Farm Bill
- 1987: AFT publishes the first Farming on the Edge report, which analyzes the impact of suburban sprawl on farming
- 1988: With help from AFT, Pennsylvania enacts its state PDR program
- 1991: AFT holds its first national conference on farmland protection
- 1992: AFT opens its Center for Agriculture in the Environment (CAE) in partnership with Northern Illinois University to undertake research on land use and environmental subjects
- 1994: AFT creates the Farmland Information Center (FIC)
- 1996: Creation of a national farmland protection program in the 1996 Farm Bill
- 1997: The publication of Saving American Farmland: What Works, AFT’s comprehensive guidebook for farmland protection
- 1997: AFT awards the first Steward of the Land Award in honor of founder Peggy Rockefeller
- 2002: The federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program receives $600 million in funding in the 2002 Farm Bill
- 2005: Twenty-seven states and more than 50 local governments have authorized PDR/PACE programs
- 2008: Long-time AFT president Ralph Grossi retires; Jon Scholl becomes president of AFT.
- 2008: AFT begins work with partners in developing a unique water quality trading market for agriculture to improve water quality and help sequester carbon in the Sauk River watershed in Minnesota
- 2009: AFT releases the study, Think Globally, Eat Locally: San Francisco Foodshed Assessment and launches Growing Local, a new initiative to promote agriculture’s role in local and regional food systems.
- 2009: The report, Sustaining Agriculture in Urbanizing Counties, is released.
- 2010: American Farmland Trust celebrates its 30th anniversary.
- 2010: AFT promotes the idea of a statewide strategic plan for agriculture in the Golden State, titled California Agricultural Vision, and facilitates the process for the State Board of Food and Agriculture.
- 2010: AFT holds its first No Farms No Food® Rally in New York.
AFT divides its programmatic work into three separate campaigns: Farmland Protection, Agriculture and Environment and Keeping Farmers on the Land.
To protect farmland from development on the local level, AFT creates public and private conservation easement programs that keep farmland forever farmland. The programs are designed to enable farmers and ranchers to resist constant pressure to sell land for development by compensating them for giving up their development rights.
AFT also works at a federal level to preserve farmland through programs like the federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FPPA)—which provides matching funds to states, communities and organizations for protecting their farm and ranch land—and other policies that provide incentives to landowners who steward and conserve their land.
Agriculture and environment
AFT contends that, as the single largest user of land and water resources in America, farms and ranches can be a key part of the solution to the United States’s most critical environmental challenges, including water quality and climate change. AFT feels that by addressing unsustainable farm practices, U.S. agriculture can improve degraded waterways and reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions.
As an incentive for farmers and ranchers to adopt certain practices, AFT initiated the Best Management Practices (BMP) Challenge in 1998. The BMP Challenge for Nutrient Management and BMP Challenge for Reduced Tillage pay farmers cash if yield and income are reduced while participating in the BMP Challenge. Unique performance guarantees allow farmers to try conservation practices on their own land, observe performance over time in side-by-side comparisons, and evaluate economic impact, without risk to income due to yield loss.
Keeping Farmers on the Land
AFT developed their Keeping Farmers on the Land campaign to address the threat to urban edge farms who face sprawling development and difficult market conditions. The goal of the campaign, stated on their website, is to save family farms by building community support for agriculture, improving market opportunities and ensuring access to land for the next generation.
Programs and reports
AFT has a number of initiatives within each campaign that contribute to the organization’s overall mission.
Farmland Information Center
A partnership between the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and AFT, the Farmland Information Center (FIC) is a clearinghouse of information about farmland protection and stewardship. The online collection provides an inventory of laws, literature and technical resources. Launched in 1994, this collaboration was made possible by the FPPA, which was the first federal law to address the loss of farmland to development.
Farming on the Edge report
AFT has completed reports on a variety of issues related to farmland protection in different areas of the United States, the most popular of which is a series of studies called Farming on the Edge. First compiled in 1987, this AFT report maps out the irreplaceable loss of farmland in the United States. The project continues to provide new and updated data through subsequent reports looking at farmland on the urban edge on both a state and a national scale. The research found that America loses an acre of farmland every single minute of every day and that our food is increasingly in the path of development, with 86 percent of U.S. fruits and vegetables and 63 percent of dairy products produced in urban-influenced areas. Additionally, the report highlights growth itself is not the problem but rather the wasteful use of land.