After a decade leading the Maine Farmland Trust, John Piotti is leaving the group to head a national farmland preservation organization.

Piotti, 55, of Unity, has been working on farming issues in Maine for the past 20 years, and admits that it’s bittersweet to leave the state to become president and CEO of the American Farmland Trust in Washington, D.C.

“It does hurt a little bit,” Piotti said in an interview. “But at the same time, there is a lot of work that needs to occur outside of Maine.”

The trust takes a three-prong approach to advocating for farmers: preserving working farmland, providing future farmers with access to land and supporting economic viability for Maine agriculture.

Under Piotti’s tenure as president, the trust has protected 40,000 acres of farmland and provided services to more than 480 farm families in the state.

“It is not enough to protect the land; it is about making sure that what is occurring on the land is helpful for the local economy,” Piotti said.

There is no official connection between the Maine and American farm trusts, but the national organization helped create the Maine group in 1999 and the two take the same three-pronged approach, but on different scales.

Since it was created in 1980, the national trust has protected more than 5 million acres of farm and ranch land and worked with farmers on sound environmental and other agriculture practices.

“I think the American Farm Trust strategy makes a lot of sense,” Piotti said. “Farmers are good stewards of the land, but they are challenged on multiple fronts, like prices, easy access to land and economic development that eats up good farmland.

“There is no need to change the strategy, but we need to do the work more aggressively in the future. We need our farmland and our farmers and we are sadly losing both.”

One critical difference between Maine and other parts of America is the partnership that has developed between farmers and conservation activists, Piotti said. In Maine, farmers follow good practices and the environmental community generally regards the local food movement, after generations of decline in farming, as positive. The same can’t be said for some American farming communities in the Midwest and West, Piotti said.

“In a lot of the country, the conservation community and agricultural community are at loggerheads,” he said.

Piotti has worked on Maine farm issues since the early 1990s. He was director of the Maine Farmland Project, a marketing program, from 1995 to 2006; and a board member and then president of the Maine Farmland Trust since 1999. He served in the Maine House of Representatives from 2002 to 2010 and was elected House majority leader. As a legislator, he helped create the Maine dairy stabilization program and worked on incorporating Katahdin Lake into Baxter State Park.

“No one has done more to advance farming in Maine in the last 20 years than John Piotti,” Taylor Mudge, the trust’s board chairman, said in a statement. “We are going to miss him terribly, but at the same time, we are thrilled that he will be bringing his special skills to other parts of the nation that need his talent and energy.”

Of the hundreds of projects he worked on at the Maine trust, his favorites were those that furthered the trust’s trio of goals, such as the recent purchase and protection of the former Weeks dairy farm in Windham. The farm was then sold for a price reflecting its agricultural value to four young farmers who own the Bumbleroot organic farm in Buxton, which will relocate to Windham for the 2017 growing season.

“Those are my favorite projects, when we hit the triple bottom line,” Piotti said.

Piotti starts his position at American Farmland Trust in July, but will remain at the Maine group through October to help with the transition period, during which the group will find a new president.