A nonprofit group co-founded by Peggy McGrath Rockefeller, wife of philanthropist David Rockefeller, may not figure to be a grass-roots group with farmers’ best interests at heart. Yet John Hardin Jr., Danville, believes American Farmland Trust is very much behind farmers and invests in a number of multipronged, far-reaching efforts to save farmland.
That’s why Hardin is a member of AFT. In fact, he’s vice chairman of the board of directors. James Moseley, Clarks Hill, is also on the board. Another Hoosier, Mike Baise, is Midwest director on the AFT staff.
“‘No farms, no food’ is AFT’s working slogan,” Hardin says. “And it’s more than a slogan. AFT is involved in many activities, but they all are tied in one way or another to preserving a farmer’s ability to produce food.”
Hardin believes the question the founders of AFT asked themselves back in 1980 is still the driving force behind the group today: What will happen to our nation’s food supply if we continue to wastefully develop our best farm and ranch land?
Rockefeller became involved because she operated farmland in New York and Maine, and didn’t like the direction attitudes about farmland use were going. In the early days, AFT concentrated on saving farmland from development, and that’s still important, Hardin says. However, AFT’s efforts today are more far-reaching.
Here’s a glimpse of what AFT does. Learn more at farmland.org.
• Advocate. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., AFT’s staff members educate lawmakers and work with federal agencies. AFT was instrumental in establishing the Regional Conservation Partnership Program in the 2014 Farm Bill. This program allows farmers and agencies to partner on a regional basis to address conservation issues.
• Educate. You can access all types of information related to protecting farmland through the Farmland Information Center on AFT’s website. One feature included in the Farmland Information Center is an extensive listing of groups that work with conservation easements.
• Innovate. AFT works to promote more adoption of conservation farming practices. Urging farmers to try cover crops in their operation to improve soil health is part of the strategy. Baise believes taking care of the soil is fundamental to survival.
There’s an aggressive campaign underway in Illinois to reduce nutrient loss. Conservation cropping systems are at the heart of the 10-year plan. AFT is heavily involved with governmental and university partners to promote adoption of best management practices. One reason for this effort is the focus on nutrients flowing down the Mississippi River and contributing to hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. Implementing the same practices in Indiana is just as important, Hardin believes.
• Investigate. AFT released a landmark report on the status of farmland in 1997 and updated it in 2002. Now it’s preparing “The State of American Farmland.” Hardin says it will be the most comprehensive picture of the state of farmland loss yet.
• Collaborate. AFT works with other groups and industries. One project underway is the promotion of water quality trading credits, Hardin says. Big businesses can trade credits with farmers, providing a financial incentive for farmers to adopt more conservation practices. The end result is less soil erosion and cleaner water.