PA 15-22—SB 346

Environment Committee

AN ACT CONCERNING THE FARMLAND RESTORATION AND VACANT LANDS PROGRAMS OF THE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

SUMMARY: This act expands the items reimbursable to farmers under the farmland restoration program, which encourages farmers to restore farmland that has gone out of production. It also increases the maximum reimbursement under the program for management or restoration plans for certain state or municipal lands.

The act allows the agriculture commissioner to partially reimburse a farmer for the cost to develop, implement, and comply with a farm resources management plan or a farmland restoration plan, instead of only to develop a farm resources management plan. The commissioner must approve a management or restoration plan for it to be reimbursable.

Under prior law, reimbursement was limited to the lesser of $20,000 or 50% of a plan's cost. For a plan on state or municipal land with an agricultural lease of at least five years, the act increases the reimbursable amount to the lesser of $20,000 or 90% of a plan's cost.

The act also broadens the activities eligible for reimbursement under the farmland restoration program and permissible under the vacant public lands program to include (1) fence installation in restoration areas to keep wildlife out and manage livestock and (2) incidental land clearing done in connection with agricultural restoration. It does this by expanding the definition of “agricultural restoration purposes.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2015

FARMLAND RESTORATION PLAN

Under the act, “farmland restoration plan” means a conservation plan of the U. S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, a soil and water conservation district, or one the agriculture commissioner approves. It includes agricultural restoration purposes.

PA 15-5, June Special Session, 121, specifies that a (1) “farmland restoration plan” includes conservation and restoration plans for leased or franchised shellfish beds and (2) “farmer” includes a lessee or franchise holder of a state or town shellfish bed.

AGRICULTURAL RESTORATION PURPOSES

Under existing law, “agricultural restoration purposes” already include:

1. reclaiming grown-over pastures and meadows;

2. installing fences to keep livestock out of riparian areas;

3. replanting vegetation on erosion-prone land or along streams;

4. restoring water runoff patterns;

5. improving irrigation efficiency;

6. conducting hedgerow management, including removing invasive plants and timber; or

7. renovating farm ponds through farm pond management.

VACANT PUBLIC LANDS PROGRAM

The law authorizes the agriculture commissioner to establish a program to encourage the use of vacant state property for gardening, agricultural purposes, or agricultural restoration purposes. To date, he has not established the program.

OLR Tracking: JLK: JSB: MS: cmg