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South Deerfield — Today, Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) Commissioner John Lebeaux joined past MDAR commissioners, state and federal officials and other stakeholders at the Mount Sugarloaf Reservation in South Deerfield to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the passing of the legislation that established the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Program, allowing Massachusetts farmers to permanently protect their land from development. Since its inception, the program has protected over 906 farms on over 73,163 acres across the state.
“Since the bipartisan collaboration of Governor Sargent and the Massachusetts legislature forty years ago, the Commonwealth has continued to protect farmland from development and preserved the opportunity for future farmers to purchase land at agricultural value,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “The Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program is crucial to our administration’s commitment to support Massachusetts’ hardworking farmers and strengthen our agricultural industry, and we are proud to have protected 27 farms on 1,652 acres across the state since taking office.”
“The more than 900 Massachusetts farms who have taken steps to protect their land are ensuring agriculture and family farms remain viable in Massachusetts for years to come,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “Our administration looks forward to continuing to support the Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program by working with the farming industry to strengthen agricultural land preservation opportunities within the Commonwealth.”
The APR Program is a voluntary program which is intended to offer a non-development alternative to farmers and other owners of “prime” and “state important” agricultural land who are faced with a decision regarding future use and disposition of their farms. The program offers to pay farmland owners the difference between the “fair market value” and the “agricultural value” of their farmland in exchange for a permanent deed restriction which precludes any use of the property that will have a negative impact on its agricultural viability.
“Massachusetts has long prioritized the protection of the Commonwealth’s natural resources, and the Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program serves as a great example of the state’s dedication to ensure the conservation of critical farming land is safeguarded for the future,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton. “Today, the Baker-Polito Administration celebrates the thousands of acres throughout the state that has been preserved, as we look forward to protecting thousands more in the years to come.”
“While we are proud of the program accomplishments over these four decades, this is also time to create and develop future program opportunities,” said MDAR Commissioner John Lebeaux. “We have been pleased to offer APR farmers the new Stewardship and Restoration Program, open to farmers who own or operate land placed under the APR program who wish to improve utilization of the land for commercial agriculture.”
The legislation that established the APR Program, An Act Providing for the Acquisition of Agricultural Preservation Restrictions by the Commonwealth, was passed by the Massachusetts legislature in 1977. The program was the first of its kind in the nation and has been a model for similar programs in other states.
“Massachusetts has led the way in many programs that have helped our farmers and the environment,” said State Senator Anne Gobi (D-Spencer), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. “APR is a prime example of a program with many merits and I look forward to continuing to work with MDAR as we explore opportunities to make the program even more relevant to the changing needs of farmers."
“The Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program exemplifies the Commonwealth’s commitment to protecting natural resources statewide and ensuring that agriculture will always have a place here in Massachusetts,” said State Representative William Pignatelli (D-Lenox), House Chair of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. “Coming from a part of the state where farming is a huge part of our culture, I am extremely thankful for all the work MDAR and the Baker-Polito Administration have done to support our farmers and the agricultural community, particularly through the Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program.”
“Governor Sargent had the foresight and vision 40 years ago to recognize that our family farms are the lifeblood of the Massachusetts agricultural system. The Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Program has preserved thousands of acres of Massachusetts farmland since its inception and has served as a national model for other states,” said Senate President Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst). “We must continue to support our farmers to provide fresh local products for our residents and beyond.”
“The Massachusetts APR program has been a national model for preserving our best agricultural lands while also strengthening the economic viability of farming and food production,” said State Representative Stephen Kulik (D-Worthington). “It has succeeded and endured for 40 years because it has been a true partnership between farmers, state and local government, and land protection advocates. Every citizen of our Commonwealth benefits from this long term investment in our land and quality of life, and great thanks are owed to the visionaries who created and have sustained the APR program.”
“Sometimes, from a high elevation, one can take a look and see all of the changes to a region over the course of time. From the vantage point of Mount Sugarloaf, you can really see how much things haven’t changed. So much of our beautiful Pioneer Valley has been protected and preserved for agriculture, and the APR program has been a key driver in that effort,” said State Representative John Scibak (D-South Hadley). “We’re grateful to our predecessors for their foresight, and commit ourselves to building upon their legacy.”
Last year, the Baker-Polito Administration created a new grant program, Stewardship Assistance and Restoration on APRs, to help owners of APR farmland improve the overall utilization of their land. MDAR also supports APR farms through the APR Improvement Program (AIP), which offers financial and technical assistance to owners of APR farmland.