Promoting Farm Viability
The best way to protect farmland and promote farming in your town is to help make farming economically viable. This includes providing tax relief and reducing “red tape”.
Maine’s Right-to-Farm law
Maine’s Right-to-Farm law is intended to help prevent the loss of agricultural land and protects farms, farm operations, and composting that takes place on a farm from nuisance suits.
The Agricultural Compliance Program (ACP) of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry (DACF) investigates and resolves complaints concerning farm operations. Here you will also find Best Management Practices and other resources related to the Right-to-Farm law.
Maine’s “current use” programs establish valuation of property at its current use, rather than at market value. For the Farmland program the property owner is required to have at least five contiguous acres in their parcel of land, it must be used for farming, agriculture or horticulture, and contribute at least $2,000 gross income annually. In addition to the Farmland program, a municipality may provide additional tax relief for farmers through enacting a Voluntary Municipal Farm Support Program.
Municipalities are not compensated by the state for lost tax revenues. It is thus important to underline that numerous Cost of Community Services demonstrate that farms generally contribute more in local taxes than they demand in local services. Loss of farms due to high taxation is likely to increase local taxation as farms are converted to sprawl.
Broad and flexible definitions and by-right permitting
Generally, if a use is not defined in the land use ordinance, it is prohibited. It is thus important that the code defines agricultural uses in a broad and flexible way. In many cases, farms thrive from diversifying their market – having a few staple crops, utilizing direct sales, and employing agricultural tourism. Farm stands, farm markets, and roadside stands are all critical components of the farm business plan and should be included in the definitions section of the zoning code.
The definition of “farm operation” for example should include accessory farm structures like barns and greenhouses, farm processing facilities and housing for farm workers, etc. To support farm viability, agricultural-related uses can be permitted by right, meaning they do not require a local permit or review. If a community would like oversight of the placement and regulation of for example residences for seasonal farm-workers, a modified and expedited site plan approval process may be appropriate.
The Maine Farmland Trust’s “Cultivating Maine’s Agricultural Future” is a comprehensive guide for farm viability and farmland protection in Maine, while their “Sample Agricultural Enterprise District Overlay Ordinance Language” provides a list of suggested agricultural definitions and uses that should be allowed in a zoning district that promotes farm viability. Another useful checklist that looks at “farm-friendliness” in your municipality more broadly is the Agriculture Regulation Toolkit from the New Hampshire Coalition for Sustaining Agriculture.
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