Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 6, 2013

Ag Forum: Farmability partnership supports future

By Garret Coggon
Special to the Record-Eagle

---- — The Grand Traverse region is committed to working with farmers to explore ways that they can protect their land, advance their business goals, and care for the natural world that surrounds us all.

The Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, together with the Grand Traverse Conservation District, MSU Extension, and the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station, are happy to announce a new program for farm families. Farmability is a program designed to temporarily protect farmland, advance farming practices, benefit farm families economically, and help them plan for the future of their farm.

Up to 5,000 acres in the targeted area of Whitewater, Milton, Elk Rapids, and Torch Lake townships are eligible this year. The Farmability Program allows families to enroll some or all of their farmland in a 10-year term conservation agreement restricting non-agricultural uses in exchange for an annual payment of $10/acre per year for active agricultural land and $5/acre per year for other land owned as a part of the farm (woodlots, wetlands etc.)

The program, while similar to the state’s PA 116 Program, is privately run and funded and provides guaranteed annual benefit payments. The program also provides benefits to support planning for the succession of the farmer’s land/operation, assistance for qualifying for the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP), and/or assistance in meeting food safety guidelines. This program is modeled after a similar program of the same name and design launched in Leelanau County by the Leelanau Conservancy in 2009. To date, the program in Leelanau has attracted the enrollment of over 7,000 acres of farmland.

The annual economic impact of Michigan’s Food and Agriculture System is $91.4 billion and accounts for nearly a quarter of all jobs in the state. A recent study from MSU’s Center for Economic Analysis in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, together with the Center for Regional Food Systems, shows that 472,000 acres of farmland in Michigan are at risk of conversion to non-farm uses in the next 5-10 years due to inadequate plans for the future of these properties. Farmability will help our local growers prepare for the future and ensure that our local agricultural economy remains strong and competitive.

Growers who wish to learn more about this unique opportunity are invited to come to the Historic Elk Rapids Town Hall for an informational session to be held Wednesday from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Questions regarding Farmability may be directed to Brian Bourdages, Farmland Program Manager at the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, 231-929-7911. MAEAP assures farmers they are preserving the integrity of their land for future generations. Find out more by contacting Jessica Rasch or Garrett Coggon at the Grand Traverse Conservation District, (231) 941-0960.

Garrett Coggon is a Safe Food & MAEAP Technician with the Grand Traverse Conservation District.