WASHINGTON — A recent survey of farmers and ranchers by American Farmland Trust and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln showed the need for Congress to pass the farm bill, according to AFT President and CEO Andrew McElwaine.

AFT and the university surveyed farmers and ranchers who have benefited from the bill’s Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program.

“The Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program is one of many critical agriculture programs threatened by Congress’ inability to pass a five-year farm bill,” McElwaine said. “It is vital the Senate-House conference committee finish its work and pass a new farm bill that fully funds farm conservation programs.”

The Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program provides federal matching funds to protect farmland by purchasing easements. In turn, these keep productive farm and ranch land from being developed and instead keep it in agricultural use. 

The survey showed that 96 percent of farmers and ranchers who permanently protected their land under the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program kept the land in agricultural production and the majority re-invested to improve the environment and economic performance of their operations.

“Our survey asked a critical question: Is the federal Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program really delivering on its promise to protect farmland and encourage conservation practices?” McElwaine said. “The overwhelming answer we received was yes.”

For the survey, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln interviewed 506 landowners participating in the program to determine if they were achieving its stated purposes.

“Ninety-six percent of those receiving help through the program are continuing agricultural production on some or all of the land protected and 70 percent kept at least three-quarters in production,” McElwaine said. “More than 68 percent of the owner-operators implemented new management practices to prevent soil erosion and/or to protect water quality. By comparison, only 23 percent of the nation’s operators overall said they used conservation methods to achieve comparable outcomes.”

The survey also found 84 percent of landowners who sold easements reinvested the proceeds to improve their farms by building structures, buying equipment, purchasing land, or installing conservation practices.

“Farmers tend to be land rich and cash poor,” said Julia Freedgood, AFT’s managing director of farmland and community initiatives. “FRPP provides liquid capital for farmers to improve the economic viability and environmental performance of working farms and ranches. Just as important, FRPP dollars tend to be spent locally, supporting local businesses and growing rural economies.”

“This Program delivers tremendous value to farmers and taxpayers not only keeping farm and ranch land in production, but also attracting $2 in landowner, private or state and local matching funds for every $1 invested by the federal government,” McElwaine said. “Congress needs to continue it — and to do that they must pass the farm bill.”

A copy of the study can be found at www.farmlandinfo/org/FRPPImpacts.