Vermont Land Trust (mix script)


Host Intro:


         In Vermont, a private non-profit environmental group called the Land Trust pays cash to farmers for their land's development rights. The program is designed to help farmers in financial distress and is funded mostly with tax dollars. But some Vermonters worry that special treatment for farmers may cause some non-farmers to lose their homes. Vermont Public Radio's Steve Young reports:


         The land in Franklin County in northwestern Vermont rolls off the northern slopes of the Green Mountains and is relatively flat, which is why the county produces the most milk of any in the state. Vermont's traditional hillside farms are in decline. But along most roads in Franklin County, tall silos and a barn still appear every few hundred yards or so. Richard and Alan Bourbeau own one such farm just south of the Canadian border.


         SOUND: Parlor sounds, pulsation, slaps, sucking sounds, then: "When you turn the vacuum back on..." amb folds under:


         Richard Bourbeau has worked this milking parlor every day since he was 12. The farm has been in the Bourbeau family for three generations.


         SOUND in the clear:"...which puts suction back in the tit cup...that keeps it on the cow's tit." amb folds under and stays under the next graph into the Richard bite:


         But even in Franklin County many farmers are in trouble because of the price of milk. In 1994, prices dropped to an average of $11 per one hundred pounds, about what it was in 1959.  Gilles Bourbeau, Richard and Alan's father, was deeply in debt. The elder Bourbeau heard about the Vermont Land Trust's grant program and applied. Inspectors and auditors gave his farm a thorough going over. This past spring, after a two year wait, he received $225,000 from the program. He used the cash to pay off his mortgage. This allowed him to sell the farm to his sons at a substantially reduced price and to retire.        


         (Richard: "We were interested in buying it a couple of years ago and the price of milk wasn't very good, hard to make a profit. We figured by doing this it would make it more affordable.")


         (Parlor amb fades under the following graph at approximately “This arrangement is called...”)


         But there's a catch. To get the money, the Bourbeaus gave up the development rights on 350 acres of their land. The $225,000 represents the land's potential commercial value, what the Bourbeaus might receive if, say, a Walmart or a condominium developer were to purchase it. This arrangement is called an easement and it never expires. Long after the money is gone, the Bourbeau family must keep farming the land or sell it for less than they might get from a developer. But for many farmers potential profits tomorrow don't matter if they can't stay in business today.

         Darby Bradley is the president of the Vermont Land Trust. He claims easements serve the dual purpose of keeping the land open forever and giving farmers a short term financial boost:


         (Darby:  "What we do is we sit down with the landowner and negotiate a land conservation agreement. Once we know what they want to accomplish, we try to work out an agreement with them which meets their objectives as well as the land trust's.")


         Political support for farming is almost universal in Vermont, but some Vermonters grumble about Federal milk subsidies and the fact that, by state law, farmers receive a substantial discount on their property taxes, all in the name of keeping land open and undeveloped. This year, the tax issue became a point of contention in many towns. Under a new law, non-farming residents must pick up the tab for their town's farmers. Ruth Pierce is a tax assessor for the town of Westminster in central Vermont. Pierce is reluctant to criticize farmers but she thinks the new law is unfair and misguided:


         Ruth: "One of the things we're seeing is that people are losing their homes because they can not pay a higher tax bill. We want both sides of the fence. We want to see folks who've had their homes for so many years be able to stay there and we also want to be able to have that open land."          


         SOUND in the clear: Barn with moo chorus, then amb folds under copy and continues through graph into Mark bite:


         Some farmers question not the fairness but the effectiveness ofthe Land Trust easement program. Mark Vosberg and his father Norm recently bought a farm in Franklin County where they were tenant farmers for many years. The previous owner received Land Trust money and used it to lower the price for the Vosbergs. Despite this, Mark is doubtful that the Land Trust can save farming in the state.


         (Mark: "It's not going to keep people in business. The price of milk is what keeps people in business. There's a lot of people who are probably deeper in debt now since they went through the Land Trust for the simple reason that they build a new barn and they had to build a new milk parlor and a new milkhouse and new milking equipment and that all costs more than they got out of the development rights. Plus they had to add on cows and work harder.") amb fades quickly under text:


         Agriculture Commissioner Leon Graves disputes this assessment. Graves chairs the state board which reviews the applications and disburses the state’s share of the easement money. Graves credits the Land Trust for helping reduce farm debt load and, most importantly, for keeping the land open.


         (Graves: "There's no question in my mind that it's helping farming both in the short haul and certainly in the long haul here in Vermont.")  


         SOUND in the clear: Gate latch, bell ringing, moo. Amb folds under next graph into next SOUND:


         Twice a day, at the sound of a bell, the Bourbeaus' cows troop into the milking parlor and stand in position. Modern technology makes milking a one man operation, but it still takes Richard three hours to milk 170 cows.


         SOUND: Parlor with Richard’s voice "We go in two groups, double twelves, six of them done and we let six more in and then we tend to the other side (sucking air sound)...The machine knows when the cow is done so it pulls itself off." Parlor amb folds under next graph and fades out after: “For National Public Radio, I’m Steve Young.”


         Dairy farmers often work eighty hour weeks. Yet even with help from the state, few farmers do better than break even. In fact, there's an old farming joke. A farmer wins a million dollars in the lottery. A reporter asks him what he'll do with the money and the farmer replies, "I guess I'll just keep farming until it's all gone." A Land Trust grant is not quite like winning the lottery. But if milk prices remain flat or decline further, the value of this one-time windfall may prove an illusion. The land could remain open but with nobody to farm it.

         For National Public Radio, I'm Steve Young