Preserving Farmland: Current Trends and Future Options (Part 1)

Farmland preservation, (especially that of 'prime farmland') is essential to our agricultural future. In part 1 of this post we show where prime farmland exists in the U.S. and where it is threatened by current trends.

According to USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Prime farmland is land that has the best combination of physical and chemical characteristics for producing food, feed, fiber, forage, oilseed, and other agricultural crops with minimum inputs of fuel, fertilizer, pesticides, and labor, without intolerable soil erosion, as determined by the Secretary of Agriculture. Prime farmland also includes land that possesses the above characteristics but is used to produce livestock or timber. It does not include land already in or committed to urban development or water storage.Obviously, the protection of prime farmland is essential to a sustainable agriculture future. But there are many pressures on farmland the most obvious of which is development. As we continue to create new infrastructure, farmland becomes increasingly threatened. This is especially true with prime farmland in areas close to urban centers. As many of us have observed, the tenancy to grow our infrastructure 'out' rather than 'up' can quiclky swallow vast tracts of farmland as development value becomes exponentially higher than agricultural production value. And with an aging farmer population this trend is exacerbated, since farmers tend to have their assets tied up in land equity, and require liquidation of that equity to retire. In addition, the difficulty of splitting assets between siblings in the case of inheritance often makes retaining farmland in production difficult, even if one or more of these next generation siblings wishes to farm. For this reason farm succession planning and farmland preservation efforts are extremely important to our agricultural future. (Images from NRCS) To be continued...

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