USDA accepts 1,075 acres of Maine farmland into conservation program

Posted June 11, 2012, at 5:46 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has accepted more than 1,000 acres in Maine into the 43rd Conservation Reserve Program, but the state will lose more than 5,000 acres from the program by October.

Donovan E. Todd III, executive director of the USDA’s Maine Farm Service Agency, said 1,075.2 acres were accepted into the program, which is designed to protect farmland. Nationwide, the USDA accepted 3.9 million acres, bringing the total to 29.6 million acres.

On Sept. 30, however, 5,291 acres will be coming out of the program due to expiring contracts. The total number of acres in the program for the state will drop to 9,362, said Todd.

“It’s lowest we’ve been in years,” he said. “We were up as high as 22,000 acres at one time. We’ve slowly lost acreage in that program in the state.”

The program pays landowners to keep land as farmland. Landowners enrolled in the program receive annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to establish long-term, resource-conserving covers on eligible farmland. Accepted contracts will become effective Oct. 1.

“We try to protect the land for future use for crops,” said Todd. “Maybe a retired farmer doesn’t want to let land go. We’ll pay a small payment per acre and that pays taxes and maintains the ground.”

The national average rental rate per acre for the current signup is $51.24.

Once farmland is developed, it’s gone forever, Todd said.

“Once you’ve paved it over, build a house or a shopping mall, it’s gone,” he said. “[The program keeps the land] in a protective state and maintains it, usually with grass to protect the soils.”

Although land across the state is included in the program, about 95 percent is located in Aroostook County.

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