Through DAR’s Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Program, Hadley has protected more than 2,400 acres of farmland, including 149 acres at seven farms this summer.
'Our goal is to protect at least 4,000 acres of farmland,' said Alexandra Dawson, Chair of the Hadley Conservation Commission. 'Hadley got its start as a farming community and 350 years later it is still a farming community. We hope it will stay that way for centuries to come.'
The APR Program pays agricultural landowners the difference between their land’s fair market value and its agricultural value in exchange for a permanent deed restriction precluding any future use of the property that would harm its agricultural viability. The voluntary program provides an economic incentive for farmers to keep their property as farmland, rather than sell it for development. When the program began in 1979, it was the first of its kind in the nation; many other states have used it as a model since then. The primary purpose of the APR program is to preserve and protect agricultural land, including designated farmland soils – a finite natural resource – from being built upon for non-agricultural purposes or used for any activity detrimental to agriculture.
As of 2008, the APR program had permanently preserved as agricultural land more than 725 farms and more than 61,855 acres statewide.
Public funding to acquire the Hadley APRs was provided by DAR, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Hadley's Community Preservation Act and other town funds, as well as private grants from three land trusts: The Kestrel Trust, Valley Land Fund, Open Space Institute, and The Trustees of Reservations.
During the town’s celebration commemorating its 350th anniversary, protected farms displayed “Forever Farmland” signs. The Kestrel Trust, farmers and town officials teamed up to display the signs, which guide viewers to the website, http://www.foreverfarmland.org/. The website outlines the benefits of preserving agricultural land, describes DAR’s APR program, and provides links to farm support organizations and area land trusts.
'By putting up Forever Farmland signs on APR land, we wanted to recognize and celebrate the landowners who have permanently protected their farmland,' said Kristin DeBoer, Executive Director of The Kestrel Trust. 'Through their example, the land trusts hope to encourage more and more farmers to participate in the APR program each and every year.'
Protection of agricultural land is an important part of the Patrick Administration’s commitment to invest at least $50 million annually in land conservation. In 2008, the DAR protected 1,530 acres in 18 communities. The $1.7 billion Energy and Environment Bond Bill signed by Governor Patrick last August provided authorization of $67.7 million to preserve agricultural lands through the APR program.
In addition to taking part in the Hadley event, DAR Commissioner Soares participated in a WAMC/Northeast Public Radio roundtable on land preservation today. He discussed the importance of protecting agricultural land, including how preservation helps sustain local economies, provides a local source of fresh food, and preserves the state’s scenic vistas and rural character.
The DAR’s mission is to ensure the long-term viability of local agriculture in Massachusetts. Through its four divisions – Agricultural Development, Animal Health, Crop and Pest Services, and Technical Assistance – the DAR strives to support, regulate, and enhance the Commonwealth’s agricultural community, working to promote economically and environmentally sound food safety and animal health measures, and fulfill agriculture’s role in energy conservation and production.