To keep farmers local, Rhode Island resells land at a discount

Agricultural land in Rhode Island is the most expensive per acre in the country, and many farmers in the region have considered relocating to other states to keep costs down. Now, the state is introducing a program to buy this real estate and sell it back for well below the market value. 

Steven Senne/AP
Farmers Sarah Turkus (front) and Dave Kuma, both of Providence, R.I., sort seedling trays on April 3 in Seekonk, Mass. When Ms. Turkus wanted to expand her operations out of Providence four years ago, she opted to lease cheaper land in neighboring Massachusetts.

Rhode Island is launching a program to buy farms and sell them to new farmers for dirt cheap.

A farm bought for $500,000, for example, could then be sold for $100,000. It is an unconventional approach to ensure that farming remains viable.

The National Farmers Union knows of no other state that buys farmland to sell to farmers at less than market price. Other states give tax credits and loans to beginning farmers.

Though some critics say this is not the role of state government, Rhode Island sees it as a way to keep young entrepreneurs from moving to other states, where land may be cheaper. It also could attract other farmers to the state, though retaining farmers who already are here is the main goal and the selection process favors Rhode Island farmers.

"We want these minds, their energy, this entrepreneurial spirit to stay here in Rhode Island," said Ken Ayars, chief of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management's agriculture division.

The state does not know exactly how many people are leaving, but officials often hear from the agriculture community that the high price of land is forcing some people out, while others are leasing land because they cannot afford to buy it, Mr. Ayars said.

"When we think about the future of agriculture in Rhode Island, this is a weak link," he said.

Sarah Turkus started the Sidewalk Ends Farm with two other young women in a vacant lot in Providence in 2011. When they wanted to expand three years later, they could not find available, affordable land in Rhode Island. They now lease 2 acres in Seekonk, Mass., to grow vegetables, herbs, and flowers.

"This program specifically, or a program like it, would probably be the only way I'd ever be able to own farmland in our area because of the cost of the land," she said.

Under the program, the state will buy a farm at the full appraised value, which takes into account the land's worth if it was developed. The state will then resell the farm at the agricultural appraised value, which is its worth solely as a farm. That is typically 20 percent of the full value, Ayars said. The condition is that it must remain a farm, which the state broadly defines as anything related to the production of agricultural crops or raising livestock.

Rhode Island plans to spend $3 million from the most recent environmental bond approved by voters to buy farmland and development rights.

The value of all land and buildings on farms nationwide averaged $3,080 per acre for 2017, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. The farm real estate value in Rhode Island was the highest in the nation at $13,800 per acre.

Rhode Island plans to solicit applications for its new program within 45 days. The National Farmers Union, which represents farmers, fishers, and ranchers with divisions in 33 states, is typically wary of anyone other than a family farmer owning farmland, said Thomas Driscoll, director of conservation policy.

But, Mr. Driscoll said, property values may be getting so high along both coasts that unconventional solutions are needed to ensure food production.

"We want to see how this operates in practice and how it affects farmers who are farming there already, but ultimately access to land is a major problem for farmers and we're glad that people are thinking creatively about it," he said.

Some Republican state lawmakers and established farmers in Rhode Island have said that buying and selling farmland is not the state's role.

Glen Cottrell owns Cottrell Homestead, a 118-year-old dairy farm that is going out of business. He fears this is a roundabout way to seize property and divide it.

"That's what the communists did," he said.

Ayars said the state will only own the land long enough to transfer it from one farmer to another, and a farmer's decision to participate is completely voluntary.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to To keep farmers local, Rhode Island resells land at a discount
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2018/0404/To-keep-farmers-local-Rhode-Island-resells-land-at-a-discount
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe