The 2024-2025 Supplemental budget and LD 579 – An Act to Support Farmland Conservation and Transition Planning for Farmers

The purpose of this memo is to share our collective support for strengthening the Bureau of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources’ Working Farmland Access and Protection Program within the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and to ask you to include funding within the Supplemental Budget for added staff capacity in this critical state program.  

The request for support aligns with ACF’s Supplemental Budget Report Out and dovetails with LD 579, An Act to Support Farmland Conservation and Transition Planning for Farmers, which was presented on January 17, 2024 to the Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry and received unanimous support during the subsequent Work Session as Ought-to-Pass as Amended. The amendment establishes a sub-account administered by the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to support public-private partnerships to carry out the purposes of the Maine Working Farmland Access and Protection Program. The amendment also establishes and provides ongoing funding (~$122,772) for one full-time, permanent Resource Management Coordinator position within the department’s Bureau of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources.

We, the undersigned organizations, appreciate the number of competing priorities that the Appropriations Committee is considering and also the Committee’s commitment to supporting Maine agriculture and conservation. Farmland is the foundation for thriving farm businesses, communities, and rural economies. But, farmland in Maine is at risk of being lost to agriculture due to increasing development pressures, a growing interest in farmland from non-farming buyers, dramatic increases in the cost of land, and farm viability challenges that are making it harder for farmers to afford to keep their land in agriculture. Farmers are increasingly squeezed between flat or declining food prices and continued dramatic increases in the costs of production. The unfortunate reality is that many of Maine’s farming businesses are in the red. Access to capital, including the capital gained during an easement purchase, is vital to finding a new path to viability for Maine’s farms.  Protecting farmland through a conservation easement keeps land available for agricultural use and creates more affordable access to farmland for both new and established farmers. 

In the words of some of our valued farmers across the state:  

To pass our legacy on like my great grandfather did…that’s a huge goal of mine. If the easement wasn’t put in place…I’m fairly certain it wouldn’t be a farm right now.

Brendon Wormell, Wormell Farm, Cumberland

The Reed Farm consists of about 240 protected acres, where we milk 50 Jersey cows (these are the little brown ones) to produce 600,000 pounds of milk annually. We crop an additional 250 leased acres in three towns. We are deeply embedded in the local economy… Our purchasing a farm of this scale would not have been possible without the help of a farmland protection program.

-Katie and Nate Clark, Reed Farm, Windsor

The way our…economy looks at land is that it only has value if you can put a subdivision on it. Because of our proximity to a city center and the views, this property was at a higher risk for being developed. An agricultural easement made the value of it go down just enough so that we could afford to put it in an offer and ultimately purchase this piece of property and preserve it as a forever farm.

-Andrew Toothacker, Hart Farm, Holden

Agricultural conservation is critical to ensure that we have the land base needed to sustain our heritage industries, grow our agricultural economy, strengthen food security, and build resilience to climate change for our state and communities. 

This effort is strongly aligned with established State goals: 

  • Farmland protection is climate action. The state’s 2020 climate action plan, Maine Won’t Wait, established the goals to increase both the amount of Maine-produced food consumed in the state and the total amount of land conserved statewide to 30 percent by 2030, with farmland protection sub-goals soon to be determined. Protecting farmland is critical to achieving both of these goals.
  • Farmland protection supports economic development. Farming is the lifeblood of our rural economies and plays a key role in supporting Maine’s broader food sector, which is identified in the state’s 10-year economic development plan as one of the four areas most ripe for economic development. Productive farmland–and affordable access to this land–is the foundation for thriving local farm and food businesses.
  • Farmland protection is key to food security. Maine’s Roadmap to End Hunger by 2030 proposes farmland protection as an important strategy to investing in and strengthening Maine’s food infrastructure. Agricultural and food production activities of all scales, in all parts of the state, by all communities who wish to engage in them are important for ensuring food security.


One of the ways that we can advance farmland protection efforts in Maine is to strengthen the Working Farmland Access and Protection Program within the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s Bureau of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Resources. This is what LD 579 seeks to do. 


LD 579 does not change the scope of the Working Farmland Access and Protection Program but does, however, include one full-time staff person to help support a broader purpose and impact of the program. Increased capacity for this program was also identified as a priority within the LMF Government Evaluation Act report. According to DACF Bureau Director Craig Lapine in his testimony in support of LD 579 during the public hearing, “the proposed position is key to expanding DACF’s capacity to prevent the loss of farmland in the state. Currently, the Bureau’s Farm Viability and Farmland Protection Specialist can dedicate only about l5% of her time to protection projects because of all the grantmaking, technical assistance, and other critical farm viability tasks that fall to that position…” 


The group of undersigned organizations recognize that Maine needs to rapidly expand our farmland protection efforts in the state, particularly publicly funded farmland protection in order to stave off increasing development pressures and ensure that farmers can continue to access the land they need for agricultural production. And, we recognize that agricultural easements take time and expertise to put into place. It takes significant time and energy to close a project and farmers deserve responsive staff, quick turnarounds, and tailored easement terms whenever possible – all things that can be better accomplished with an additional skilled staff person within the Program. 


Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or comments in response to this letter. 




Shelley Megquier, Policy & Research Director, Maine Farmland Trust

Heather Spalding, Deputy Director & Senior Policy Director, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

Eric Venturini, Executive Director, Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine

Kaitlyn Nuzzo, Director of Government Relations, Maine

Francesca Gundrum, Policy Advocate, Maine Audubon