AUGUSTA — Maine Farmland Trust has reached the 30,000-acre mark in its campaign to preserve 100,000 acres of farmland.

Executive Director John Piotti announced the milestone this week at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show at the Augusta Civic Center.

The campaign was launched last year with the aim of making sure that land is available to younger farmers at farmland prices, not developers’ prices, Piotti said.

Piotti said Maine’s agricultural sector is poised for a bright future, provided the right steps are taken in the next few years.

“We’ve now worked with over 350 farmers and helped protect 30,000 acres of Maine farmland,” Piotti said. “We’re making a real difference.”

Taylor Mudge, a former farmer and founder of the State of Maine Cheese Company, is leading the fundraising component of the trust’s Secure a Future for Farming campaign.

Mudge said it will cost $50 million to protect 100,000 acres by 2014.

“That may sound like a big number, but the economic impact from that 100,000 acres is expected to exceed $50 million each year, so this is really a good investment,” Mudge said.

The trust set an initial goal of raising $10 million, which is then expected to act as leverage to raising an additional $40 million.

Mudge said the first $10 million is the most critical. To date, the land trust has raised $7.1 million.

He said landowners of Maine’s farmland are growing older. Much of the land will be sold for non-farm uses in the next few years if the trust doesn’t provide more support to farmers, he said.

“Protecting good land with an agricultural easement is one way we support farmers, because farmers can often only afford to buy land if it is protected land,” Mudge said.

Walter Fletcher, a Pittsfield dairy farmer, said the trust was there to support his farm at a critical time. A 200-acre farm that abutted his property had been put on the market. Fletcher said he wanted to buy half of that land to expand his operation, but he couldn’t afford to buy it all or pay “top dollar.”

The trust helped him out by buying the entire farm, selling half the land to Fletcher and the other half to a new farmer.

Fletcher said the trust protected both parcels with agricultural easements before re-selling them, ensuring that they always will be available for farming.

“That’s the kind of thing we can do,” Piotti said. “In this case, we permanently protected a good piece of farmland that could have easily been lost to farming, while supporting a existing dairy farm and helping get a new farm started.”

Piotti said that the trust not only helps farmers with land protection, but it also provides them with other services, including business planning.

“We’re committed to doing everything we can to help farmers,” Piotti said.

Mechele Cooper — 621-5663

[email protected]

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