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An Act Supporting Farming on Non-Contiguous Land

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2019 August Issue Newsletter

By Senator Jo Comerford

"Editors note: NOFA/Mass Policy Director Marty Dagoberto invited state Senator Jo Comeford to provide a guest column for this month's policy update. Senator Comerford is the senate champion of NOFA/Mass's priority Mass. Healthy Soils Bill, and is a strong voice for farmers in her district.

Farms and farmers are at the heart of what makes Massachusetts vibrant and utterly unique in the Commonwealth. They’re the bedrock of healthy, environmentally conscience communities. A backbone of our regional economy. And much more. 

That’s why, when I was sworn into the legislature on January 2 and had only 16 days to file legislation, I quickly prioritized the well-being of farms and farmers in our region.

Throughout my campaign to represent the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district, I met with many farmers about the lack of land for farming and their razor thin profit margins. One of the things I heard about consistently was the high property taxes that farmers in my district were paying on sections of farmland that are fewer than five acres. That’s what I filed S.1613: An Act supporting farming on non-contiguous land.

State policy recognizes the value of having farms in the Commonwealth by taxing farmland based on its value as a source of agricultural and horticultural products, instead of taxing the land based off its most profitable use. Unfortunately, under current law this tax rule is available only for farms of five acres or more.

The growth of commercial and residential development has diminished the availability of undeveloped land for farming. As a result, more farmers are using smaller plots of land. These farming operations consolidate smaller, non-contiguous parcels to form a larger, integrated operation. This allows for growth, more efficiency, and it preserves farmland as a local resource.

Senator Jo ComerfordYet under current law these smaller plots are taxed at much higher commercial rates. So I filed a bill to allow integrated farm operations comprised of smaller non-contiguous parcels to be taxed at the same rate as farmland, instead of at its commercial value, if the parcels add up to at least five acres. The bottom line understanding is that farmland should be taxed as farmland.

I also filed a bill with the intersection of farming and climate change in mind. Current levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are so high that we cannot choose between reducing emissions and promoting carbon sequestration. We must do both.

S.438: An Act to promote healthy soils and agricultural innovation within the Commonwealth, both promotes carbon sequestration and helps farmers enrich their soil. The legislation would create a fund to provide education and technical assistance as well as financial incentives for utilizing healthy soil practices. These practices include no-till or low-till, use of cover crops, and more.

As you all know, no-till or low-till practices result in significant upticks in soil carbon sequestration. Healthier soils retain more water during droughts and provide better drainage during floods. In addition, healthy soils lead to higher crop yields and higher quality produce. And cover crops are a great way to reduce erosion and boost soil nutrients for the next growing season.

That’s all a potential win-win-win-win for farmers and for all of us as the bill would leverage support for many farmers in our region already engaged in these environmentally and agriculturally-sound practices, but currently without the necessary state support.

You can find more information about the farm-related legislation I filed, here: https://senatorjocomerford.org/issues/farms-farmers/. And more about other legislation and the work of my office, here: https://senatorjocomerford.org/.

As proud as I am to have filed these bills, I’m prouder still to work with advocates like the Northeast Organic Farming Association and others who provide the people-power needed to move these bills through the legislature. I’m also thrilled to work alongside legislators who champion farming and farm issues, like my House colleague Rep. Paul Schmid who filed both of the above mentioned bills in the House, and my Western Mass colleagues who are all strong advocates for our farmers.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share a few thoughts. If you’d like to weigh in in support of the non-contiguous land bill, please contact the Revenue Committee Chairs Senator Adam Hinds (Adam.Hinds@masenate.gov) and Representative Mark Cusack (Mark.Cusack@mahouse.gov). Or to voice your support for the healthy soils legislation, contact Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee Chairs Senator Anne Gobi (Anne.Gobi@masenate.gov) and Representative Smitty Pignatelli (Smitty.Pignateli@mahouse.gov). Also, please feel free to reach out directly to jo.comerford@masenate.gov with your ideas, questions, or concerns. I’m honored to be your partner in this work.

 

Jo Comerford represents the 24 cities and towns of the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district in the Massachusetts State Senate.

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