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Around The Grange
Keep Saving Farmland

By Editorial, Hartford Courant (6/7/10)

  JUNE 16, 2010 --

As we reacquaint ourselves with the value of local agriculture, the good news in Connecticut is that farmland preservation is up. The bad news is that we are still losing more farms than we are saving.

According to the recently-released state Council on Environmental Quality's annual environmental assessment, Connecticut is losing about 1,800 acres of agricultural fields each year (some estimates are higher). In 2009, the state purchased development rights to 10 farms totaling 1,370 acres. This was a big improvement over 2008, when seven farms totaling 675 acres were protected.

The state's goal is to preserve 130,000 acres of farmland, of which about 47,000 acres have been saved by public and private sources. At the current rate of preservation, we'll reach the goal sometime in the next century. Except that there won't be 130,000 acres to save by then. Indeed, the council report says, total area of farmland in the state will drop below 130,000 acres between 2050 and 2060.

State leaders seemed to have grasped the multifaceted importance of saving farmland. The innovative Community Investment Act of 2005 supports land preservation along with affordable housing and historic preservation. Also, the state began a lump sum bonding program in 2007 that commits $10 million a year to farmland preservation.

These major commitments, along with other government and private funds, have created real momentum. Earlier this year, according to a white paper by the Working Lands Alliance, the state was poised to purchase development rights for 24 farm representing 2,282 acres, at a cost of $13.6 million, with another two dozen farms in the pipeline.

However, legislative leaders and Gov. M. Jodi Rell swept $5 million, about a fourth of the total, from the Community Investment Act to help balance this year's budget, and another $5 million for next year's. They shouldn't touch this money; certainly should not touch any more of it. Agriculture provides nutritious food that doesn't have to be transported across the continent, provides jobs, protects scenic beauty and quality of life and impedes sprawl. There is a finite amount of farmland. What isn't saved will be lost.



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