To all Farmers and Farm Supporters:
I am pleased to present the results of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation’s (MFBF’s) Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Program Land-Owner’s Survey.
The APR program has been successful in keeping farmland in production and keeping land available for farmers. However, as the program has progressed the administration of the program has come under scrutiny by farmer land-owners. Farm Bureau has heard many complaints from the organization’s members about increasing bureaucracy and restrictions associated with farming APR land.
Many of the complaints and concerns expressed about the APR Program have been anecdotal. At the same time, many have touted the benefits of the program to farmers, again with little supporting data. The purpose of this survey was to provide an objective analysis of APR owners experiences and perceptions of the administration of the program.
As president of Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF), an APR owner and someone who has worked on APR issues for more than 25 years, I will offer my own highlights/ takeaways from the survey:
- Many respondents (and presumably current APR owners) do not understand the provisions of the program. For instance, many listed the savings on property tax as a benefit of land being in APR. Others stated that they could not develop the land, which is the very basis of the restriction.
- A significant number of APR respondents (31 percent) feel that the state is enforcing more restrictions on their land than they agreed to in their contract.
- 24 percent of APR land-owners report that the Department of Agriculture (DAR) has prevented them from doing something on their farm that they wanted to do. This does not necessarily indicate DAR is being heavy handed in every instance. However, when nearly a quarter of all APR owners experience such a conflict, a closer examination is necessary.
- 25 percent of respondents feel that the state has not treated them fairly in the administration of the program.
- As far as benefits respondents experienced from having land in APR, I was surprised that the largest percentage of respondents saw the primary benefit of APR as keeping land out of development. Prior to this survey, I thought it was an infusion of cash into their operation. Interestingly, the second largest percentage of respondents to this question said there was no benefit to the APR program.
I would encourage any reader of the survey to look at the comments provided by the respondents. These statements offer a window into how respondents view this program.
Based on the survey results and comments, I see several needs related to APR:
- Education – Existing and potential APR owners need to have a better education about what the restrictions mean in terms of what they can and can’t do on APR land.
- Further Analysis – We need to delve deeper into the issues that were highlighted in the results. When nearly 1/3 of the respondents believe the state is putting more restrictions on their land than they agreed to -that’s a significant problem. The survey highlights this but it doesn’t identify the cause. It could be poor communication, lack of understanding of the process, or the state is indeed putting too many restrictions on land. It could also be a combination of these factors. We need more information and analysis to determine this.
- Action – Where we’ve identified a need or problem, we need to address it.
APR is an emotional issue for many with both supporters and detractors. Land conservation itself is a topic where people have strong opinions. No doubt we will all interject our own biases into our own interpretation of survey results. If that’s all we do, we won’t move forward in resolving the long-standing conflict over APR, and this will have been a wasted effort. However, if we all keep an open mind, and use the results of this survey as a solid, objective, unbiased basis then we can work together to improve the program.
Farm Bureau will distribute this survey to all those with a stake in this – farmers, legislators, land trusts and the state. We expect them to use these results as a basis from which to discuss the future of the program, and how to improve it.