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The Farm Bill: Critical to Open Space Preservation in Bucks County

A new Farm Bill that preserves and enhances programs that support family farms is critical to preserving precious farmland and open space locally and across our nation.
View of a Bucks County farm. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Most Bucks County residents may not give much thought to the federal Farm Bill. Mention of the legislation brings to mind massive farms and ranches, the likes of which are often associated with Midwest states like Iowa and Nebraska. But the Farm Bill, an expansive piece of legislation covering many topics, is critical to efforts right here in Bucks County to preserve and protect the remaining open space in our area and our planet’s natural resources. 

Perhaps most significantly for our region, Farm Bill programs help preserve family farms, limiting sprawl and protecting the precious open space we all treasure. The incentives provided by the Farm Bill can mean the difference between insolvency and profitability for many small farmers. 

Longtime Bucks County residents can easily recall how small, family farms once dotted the county. Over the course of the last generation, one by one, the farms started to disappear, being sold to developers. In their place, home after home after home was built, some of it high density housing, radically changing the literal landscape of Bucks County.

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This development strained our limited water supply, added cars – and their emissions – to roads not built for the traffic they were asked to support, and stressed our environment. 

The most recent Farm Bill expired last September. Funding through September 2024 for the programs it covers was included in the stopgap funding bill to keep the U.S. government open signed by President Joe Biden last November.  

Restructured and reintroduced approximately every five years, the Farm Bill now encompasses community food access, agriculture, nutrition assistance, research, the development of specialty crops and bioenergy programs. For environmental advocates, it is also critical to efforts to protect our Commonwealth’s 86,000 miles of waterways.

The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA), a centerpiece of President Biden’s agenda, made additional, enhanced investments in a number of conservation programs that are a part of the current Farm Bill. These proven and popular programs provide incentives to farmers for planting and cultivation of cover crops and fund conservation easements for wetlands and grasslands – all of which helps ensure water quality and open space. The IRA contains a decade of funding for these programs. As negotiations over the Farm Bill continue, it is vital that these funds are preserved or increased.

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The link between successful – and profitable – family farming and the preservation of our environment is crystal clear even if not easily apparent. Family farmers almost exclusively want to preserve their farms and their way of life for future generations. The Farm Bill, and the enhanced funding for many of its programs provided by the IRA, is critical to our efforts to protect our planet. 

We won’t be able to resurrect the family farms we’ve lost, but we can act to protect the ones that remain. A new Farm Bill that preserves and enhances programs that support family farms is critical to preserving precious farmland and open space in Bucks County and across our nation.

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Molly Parzen

Molly Parzen is Executive Director of Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, a statewide environmental advocacy group.