Category Archives: Farmland Conservation, Sales & Estate Planning

Transitions: Ed Thompson, former CA State Director of American Farmland Trust

AFT

AFT’s popular No Farms No Food campaign

The second in our series of well-known leaders in the California agriculture scene who recently retired is Edward Thompson, Jr., former CA State Director of American Farmland Trust (AFT), the nation’s leading agricultural land conservation organization. He served as CA Director since 2003.

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Edward Thompson, Jr.

In 1980, Ed actually helped start AFT – as its first General Counsel, and since then, he has served the organization in various capacities, including National Policy Director and Senior Vice President.

During his tenure at AFT, he was a strategic participant in nearly every aspect of farmland preservation, from negotiating real estate transactions and local land use planning to designing state conservation easement programs and drafting federal agricultural legislation. He has also held legal positions with other diverse entities, such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the National Association of Counties.

 

Read on for our info-packed conversation, including:

  • The Climate Change-Farmland-Smart Growth connection
  • CA’s new Agricultural Vision
  • New regulations & policy
  • Cap-and-trade funds for the future
  • Promising farmland mitigation
  • Pros & cons of easements
  • Time-sensitive threats
  • Land grabs
  • The role of smaller farms in conservation
  • Angel investors & new innovations
  • Farmland access for new farmers
  • Where our future food will be grown, and more…

Meaty content on this very important topic… Enjoy!


SOME HIGHLIGHTS FROM OUR INTERVIEW (full transcript at the bottom):

FarmsReach: Having been with AFT since its inception, including its Farmland Information Center, the federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, the Farming on the Edge report, and the concept of agricultural conservation easements, what are your overarching reflections about AFT’s growth and progress since the early 80s?

Ed Thompson: I think it is fair to say that AFT launched a movement that has engaged thousands of state and local organizations, raised billions of dollars and saved millions of acres of farmland from development.

While we can be proud of this, the nation continues to lose far more farmland than is being protected. So, there is still a lot of work to be done, particularly in promoting effective land use regulations to complement the voluntary incentive-driven conservation approaches we pioneered.

You have been a big proponent of the links between climate change, smart development and farmland. For those who aren’t familiar, can you summarize in a nutshell the most important points that all people should be aware of?

The most important point is that, acre for acre, urban development generates 50 to 70 times as much greenhouse gas emissions as agriculture. A recent university study of agricultural practices concluded that saving farmland is by far the most important thing California agriculture can do for the climate. And, the key to doing this is to develop more efficiently, meaning: consume less land for each new resident, job and dollar of economic activity. AFT has calculated that cutting farmland conversion in half by 2030 and by 75 percent by 2050, saving 700,000 acres, would have the same result as taking two million cars off the road every year.

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The 2013 Farmland Conservation Conference hosted by AFT and the Napa Farm Bureau was buzzing with energy and promise.  What were some of the key strategic and/or programmatic outcomes from the conference that continue today?

For one, the [Jerry] Brown Administration created the Sustainable Agricultural Land Conservation Program, the first program in the nation to use cap-and-trade climate revenue to fund farmland conservation easements. The program has raised around $40 million in the first couple years, twice what the state of California had invested in farmland conservation over the previous two decades. This, in turn, has helped revitalize the agricultural land trusts around the state.

There have also been a number of important local actions, including the renewal of urban growth boundary initiatives in Sonoma and Ventura Counties. Finally, Local Agency Formation Commissions (LAFCOs) are beginning to take a more active role in farmland protection, as was contemplated when they were first established. Their trade association has teamed with AFT to on a soon-to-be-published white paper how LAFCOs can play an even more effective role.

Agricultural conservation easements are clearly an effective way to protect farmland.  Where do you see future funding for easements coming from?  And, what is your response to folks like The Nature Conservancy looking deeper into alternatives to easements for the future? Continue Reading →

Farmland Access in the 21st Century ~ Recap from Agrarian Trust Symposium in Berkeley, CA

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 8.32.00 PMThree months after Congress passed a new Farm Bill authorizing nearly one trillion dollars over the next decade to support US agriculture, a symposium convened in Berkeley to grapple with the same challenges that the Farm Bill aims to confront: the rising age of the American farmer, loss of farmland, food security, public health, and more. The overwhelming conclusion of this past weekend’s gathering: the new reforms proposed by Capitol Hill hardly scratch the surface.

For one weekend only, agricultural activists and thinkers such as Joel Salatin, Wes Jackson and many more farmers, advocates and industry veterans in the audience came together for Our Land: Farmland Access in the 21st Century, coordinated by the new Agrarian Trust.

Rather than propose new subsidies, food stamps or crop insurance for commodity farmers, the Symposium dug deep, deconstructing the anthropological origins of agriculture, the historical pressures of capitalism on our food system, and proposing that new policy atop existing structures can do little to abate the global trends that threaten our food, economy and environment.

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NYFC Report: Conservation Tools Providing Young Farmers Access to Farmland

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This blog first appeared on the Seedstock website on November 21, 2013. Seedstock is a company focused on innovation and sustainability in agriculture. Through the use of a variety of tools, including the news, an informational blog and live events, the company promotes agricultural start up companies, university research, urban agriculture initiatives, and farmers employing innovative new techniques and approaches.

Written by Missy Smith.

Recently, the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) released Conservation 2.0: How Land Trusts Can Protect America’s Working Farms. The report finds that a primary threat to new farmers is acquisition of protected farmland by non-farmers who allow it to go fallow. To gather research for the study, the NYFC interviewed 200 U.S. land trust leaders. One-quarter of those surveyed said they have witnessed a decline in production at conserved farms resulting from non-farmers purchasing land at prices with which farmers cannot compete.

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Business Succession: Planting the Seeds for an Abundant Future

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This article first appeared in the spring 2013 issue of Certified Organic Magazine.

Certified Organic Magazine is a quarterly publication from California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). Geared towards organic enthusiasts, this information-packed publication includes feature articles, client spotlights, certification news, advocacy updates, producer resources/tips and events.

Written by Jay Silverstein, partner at the business and accounting consulting firm, Moss Adams.

Whether retirement is near or far, thinking about who will take the reins and lead your farm into the future isn’t easy, but it’s especially relevant these days. According to the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), approximately 70 percent of U.S. farmland will go on the market in the next 20 years as the nation’s farmers age. Without a succession plan, many family-run farms are likely to go out of business, be bought by larger farms, or get turned over to real estate developers or other purchasers for nonagricultural use.

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Farm Bill 101 & Action Needed Now

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The Farm Bill is a 1001-page proposal that covers food, farming, nutrition, and land use, and is one of the primary tools for the US government to address issues that affect public health, climate, land and water. It’s drafted and hopefully passed through the House and Senate, and on to the President to sign every 5 to 7 years.

However, the days are limited for Congress to enact a new farm bill before the Sept. 30 expiration of current programs. For those paying attention, that Sept. 30, 2013 deadline was originally Sept. 30, 2012. Congress failed to complete its task last year, passing an extension in the early hours of Jan 1. 2013.

So, here we are – two years later – with no reform to outdated farm subsidies and funding stripped from nearly a dozen critical programs that help farmers and communities.  Programs that create jobs, invest in our next generation of farmers, and help farmers and communities build a more sustainable future.

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“Free Money!” ~ Q&A with NRCS Soil Conservationist, Ben Garland

Every week, we’ll be spotlighting a FarmsReach Featured Farmer or community Member.  Our Featured Farmers are brimming with great ideas and knowledge to share with the farming community, and our Members comprise a mix of farmers, ranchers, Extension Advisors, nonprofits, and more.  

Last week’s North Coast Farmers Guild monthly meet-up was another great night of delicious food, fun conversations and valuable connections.  After dinner, we heard from two presenters, one of which was Ben Garland, Soil Conservationist (and funder) at the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS).

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The NRCS grants funds to farmers and ranchers for a wide variety of uses – all of which support healthy ecosystems and long-term sustainability.  Last year, the CA NRCS offices had $3.5 million to grant to organic or transitioning farmers, but only $3 million was used.

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“Elon Musk Throws Farmers for a Hyperloop” – Alternatives to High-Speed Rail

This holiday week, we take a break from our Featured Farmer Spotlights to share some high-tech news excerpted from the Upstart Business Journal.  Elon Musk, co-founder of Paypal and Tesla Motors, revealed his plans for a $6 billion solar-powered alternative to the projected $68 billion High Speed Rail Project to go through prime California farmland.

Elon Musk's Hyperloop plans coast far above valuable farmland.  TED/James Duncan Davidson

Elon Musk’s Hyperloop plans coast far above valuable farmland.
TED/James Duncan Davidson

Elon Musk revealed the details of his plans for his Hyperloop—the air-powered pod in a tube that might someday connect Los Angeles to San Francisco and, if successful, would totally disrupt other transportation sectors, even as it leaves farmers nearly untouched.

The Hyperloop is designed to link large cities less than 1,000 miles apart that drive high amounts of traffic between them. So while the link between California’s two most prominent cities is the first choice, the concept could suitable for other large sister cities like New York and Washington D.C., or New York and Boston.

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California Farmland Protection: Reality or Wishful Thinking?

Last week, in the beautiful Napa Valley, the American Farmland Trust and Napa County Farm Bureau hosted a statewide conference – the first of its kind – to address the question: Is farmland conservation a reality, or simply wishful thinking? The intention was to “highlight the successes, define the obstacles, and explore new directions for conserving California agricultural land.”

The 200-person event sold out weeks in advance, bringing together many long-time stakeholders who have worked for decades on farmland issues: advocates, land trusts, government agencies, Farm Bureau members, nonprofit organizations and farmers themselves.  It seemed nearly every agriculture county in the state was present to learn how we can address the frightening reality of losing 30,000 acres of the most fertile agricultural land each year.

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Demystifying “The Bay-Delta Tunnels” – with 18 Reasons

Tonight I went to the 18 Reasons event about the massive Bay-Delta Tunnels water project: “Our Delta: A Conversation with an Artist, Activist and Farmer“.  As with fracking, this is a big-budget project with an enormously big impact on water in California.  And, as with fracking, it is deeply political and riddled with complex variables and a myriad of stakeholders.

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Adam Scow, California Campaigns Director at Food & Water Watch, outlines areas impacted by the Tunnels.

With the help of partners Food & Water Watch and The Nature Conservancy, we’ve already started to compile Bay-Delta Tunnel resources in our recently launched Water & Irrigation Toolkit; however tonight was a most welcomed overview of the issue! Here’s the scoop from tonight’s discussion.

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