In the last few decades, the state of Georgia has seen rapid growth, but that growth has come at a cost. That cost: land that was once used to produce food, fiber, and shelter. In fact, since the seventies, Georgia has seen a twenty percent reduction in land that was once used for farming. However, as a result of this year’s legislative session, legislators have passed a measure to combat the issue – Senate Bill 220, or the Farmland Conservation Act – a policy recommendation from Commissioner Harper’s office that creates a fund to help protect the state’s farmland by allowing agricultural landowners to give up all or some of their development rights to a conservation trust or similar entity.
“The Georgia Farmland Conservation Fund is a fund that would be established under the Department of Agriculture that will allow farmers to participate in conservation easements,” says Georgia Ag Commissioner, Tyler Harper. “This is not new. It’s something that’s been done in 29 other states around the country. It’s something that we’re building off of what other states have done, but it gives us an opportunity to allow family farms and producers across the state, if they so choose, to put their farms in a conservation easement to protect their production ag land for generations to come.”
As Harper stated, this measure is nothing new, as Georgia is now the thirtieth state to create such a fund, which according to Senator Russ Goodman, the lead sponsor of the bill, has been very successful, as he says millions of acres across the country have been protected due to measures like this one.
“Through these programs we’ve been able to protect about 3.2 million acres across the country,” says Russ Goodman, State Senator from Georgia’s 8th District. “For instance, in the state of Florida, they’ve protected 58,000 acres of land, I believe it is, and North Carolina is 28,000 acres. But there’s a federal match that comes down from the federal government for this. It’s a dollar-for-dollar match, for any private money, any state money, any local money that goes into it.”
According to Goodman, Harper, and others alike, preserving farmland not only is crucial for the future of our farmers, but it’s also a vital part of our national security.
“Food security is an essential element in national security. You can’t, you can’t grow crops and you can’t grow food without land, right? And so that’s what the purpose of this bill. It’s to try to protect farmland and perpetuity. And you think about what the implications are for, like I say, generations down the line. That’s the intent of the bill. Um, and it’s important to me that years and generations down the line, that we have the ability to feed ourselves,” says Goodman.
“Agricultural land is a very vital part of the ag sector. Without land, we can’t produce the crops and the livestock that we need to help ensure that we’re providing a safe, secure, food supply and that we have the food, the fiber, and the shelter we need right here at home without relying on foreign sources to do that for us,” says Harper. “It makes us more independent when it comes to our food supply chain, our fiber supply chain, and our shelter supply chain right here in the state of Georgia. Protecting Georgia families, Georgia Farms, and Georgia producers is vital, but at the same time, by doing that, we’re able to ensure that consumers are protected across the state as well, because they can rest assured that we continue to have a safe, secure food supply on those grocery store shelves all across the state.”
By: John Holcomb