Why Save Farmland | American Farmland Trust

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AMERICA’S AGRICULTURAL LAND IS AT RISK Fertile soils take thousands of years to develop. Creating them takes a combination of climate, geology, biology and good luck. So far, no one has found a way to manufacture them. Thus, productive agricultural land is a finite and irreplaceable natural resource. America’s agricultural land provides the nation —and world—with an unparalleled abundance of food and fiber products.

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Why Save Farmland | American Farmland Trust

  1. 1. AMERICAN FARMLAND TRUST · FARMLAND INFORMATION CENTER AMERICA’S AGRICULTURAL LAND agricultural acres were developed each year. IS AT RISK And the rate is increasing—up 51 percent from the rate reported in the previous decade. Fertile soils take thousands of years to devel- op. Creating them takes a combination of Agricultural land is desirable for building climate, geology, biology and good luck. So because it tends to be flat, well drained and far, no one has found a way to manufacture generally is more affordable to developers them. Thus, productive agricultural land is a than to farmers and ranchers. Far more farm- finite and irreplaceable natural resource. land is being converted than is necessary to provide housing for a growing population. America’s agricultural land provides the nation Over the past 20 years, the acreage per per- —and world—with an unparalleled abundance 3 son for new housing almost doubled. Most of food and fiber products. The dominant role of this land is outside of existing urban areas. FACT of U.S. agriculture in the global economy has been likened to OPEC’s in the field of energy. Since 1994, lots of 10 to 22 acres accounted for 55 percent of the growth in housing area. 4 The food and farming system is important to The NRI shows that the best agricultural soils SHEET the balance of trade and the employment of nearly 23 million people. Across the country, are being developed fastest. farmland supports the economic base of many rural and suburban communities. THE FOOD AND FARMING SYSTEM WHY SAVE Agricultural land also supplies products with The U.S. food and farming system contributes little market value, but enormous cultural and nearly $1 trillion to the national economy— ecological importance. Some are more immedi- or more than 13 percent of the gross domes- FARMLAND? ate, such as social heritage, scenic views, open tic product—and employs 17 percent of the space and community character. Long-range labor force.5 With a rapidly increasing world environmental benefits include wildlife habitat, population and expanding global markets, clean air and water, flood control, ground- saving American farmland is a prudent water recharge and carbon sequestration. investment in world food supply and eco- nomic opportunity. Yet despite its importance to individual com- munities, the nation and the world, American Asian and Latin American countries are the farmland is at risk. It is imperiled by poorly most significant consumers of U.S. agricultur- planned development, especially in urban- al exports. Latin America, including Mexico, influenced areas, and by the complex forces purchases an average of about $10.6 billion driving conversion. USDA’s Economic of U.S. agricultural exports each year. Asian Research Service (ERS) developed “urban countries purchase an average of $23.6 bil- influence” codes to classify each of the lion/year, with Japan alone accounting for nation’s 3,141 counties and county equivalents about $10 billion/year.6 Even as worldwide TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE into groups that describe the degree of urban demand for a more diverse diet increases, One Short Street, Suite 2 influence.1 AFT found that in 1997, farms in many countries are paving their arable land Northampton, MA 01060 the 1,210 most urban-influenced counties pro- to support rapidly expanding economies. Tel: (413) 586-4593 duced 63 percent of dairy products and 86 Important customers today, they are expected Fax: (413) 586-9332 to purchase more agricultural products in the percent of fruits and vegetables.2 Web: www.farmlandinfo.org future. According to USDA’s National Resources NATIONAL OFFICE Inventory (NRI), from 1992 to 1997 more While domestic food shortages are unlikely in 1200 18th Street, NW, Suite 800 Washington, DC 20036 than 11 million acres of rural land were con- the short term, the U.S. Census predicts the Tel: (202) 331-7300 verted to developed use—and more than half population will grow by 42 percent in the Fax: (202) 659-8339 of that conversion was agricultural land. In next 50 years. Many developing nations Web: www.farmland.org that period, an average of more than 1 million already are concerned about food security. January 2003 1 The Farmland Information Center (FIC) is a public/private partnership between American Farmland Trust and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service that provides technical information about farmland protection.
  2. 2. AMERICAN FARMLAND TRUST · FARMLAND INFORMATION CENTER Of the 78 million people currently added to (COCS) studies shows that nationwide farm, the world each year, 95 percent live in less forest and open lands more than pay for the developed regions.7 The productivity and municipal services they require, while taxes diversity of American agriculture can ensure on residential uses consistently fail to cover food supplies and continuing preeminence in costs.9 (See COCS fact sheet.) Related studies world markets. But this depends upon an measuring the effect of all types of develop- investment strategy that preserves valuable ment on municipal tax bills find that tax bills assets, including agricultural land, to supply generally go up as communities become more rapidly changing global demand. developed. Even those communities with the most taxable commercial and industrial prop- erties have higher-than-average taxes.10 FISCAL AND ECONOMIC STABILITY Saving farmland is an investment in communi- Local governments are discovering that they ty infrastructure and economic development. cannot afford to pay the price of unplanned It supports local government budgets and the development. Converting productive agricul- ability to create wealth locally. In addition, tural land to developed uses creates negative distinctive agricultural landscapes are often economic and environmental impacts. For magnets for tourism. example, from the mid-1980s to the mid- 1990s, the population of Atlanta, Ga., grew WHY SAVE People vacation in the state of Vermont or at about the same rate as that of Portland, Steamboat Springs, Colo., because they enjoy Ore. Due to its strong growth management the scenery created by rural meadows and law, Portland increased in size by only 2 per- FARMLAND? grazing livestock. In Lancaster, Pa., agriculture cent while Atlanta doubled in size. To accom- is still the leading industry, but with the Amish modate its sprawling growth, Atlanta raised and Mennonites working in the fields, tourism property taxes 22 percent while Portland The Farmland Information is not far behind. Napa Valley, Calif., is anoth- lowered property taxes by 29 percent. Vehicle Center offers publications, er place known as a destination for “agro miles traveled (and related impacts) increased an on-line library and techni- 17 percent in Atlanta but only 2 percent in tourism.” Tourists have become such a large cal assistance. For additional part of most Napa Valley wineries that many Portland.11 information on farmland protection, Call (800) 370- vintners have hired hospitality staff. Both the 4879. Or visit us on the web valley and the wines have gained name recog- ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY at www.farmlandinfo.org nition, and the economy is thriving. Well-managed agricultural land supplies Agriculture contributes to local economies important non-market goods and services. directly through sales, job creation, support Farm and ranch lands provide food and cover services and businesses, and also by supplying for wildlife, help control flooding, protect lucrative secondary markets such as food wetlands and watersheds, and maintain air processing. Planning for agriculture and pro- quality. They can absorb and filter waste- tecting farmland provide flexibility for growth water and provide groundwater recharge. and development, offering a hedge against New energy crops even have the potential to fragmented suburban development while replace fossil fuels. supporting a diversified economic base. The federal government owns 402 million Development imposes direct costs to commu- acres of forests, parks and wildlife refuges nities, as well as indirect costs associated with that provide substantial habitat for wildlife. the loss of rural lands and open space.8 Most of this land is located in 11 western Privately owned and managed agricultural states. States, municipalities and other non- land generates more in local tax revenues than federal units of government also own land. it costs in services. Carefully examining local Yet public agencies alone cannot sustain budgets in Cost of Community Services wildlife populations. Well-managed, privately 2
  3. 3. AMERICAN FARMLAND TRUST · FARMLAND INFORMATION CENTER 1 “A County-Level Measure on Urban owned agricultural land is a critical resource municipalities, farmers are finding ways to Influence,” Rural Development Perspectives, Vol. 12, No. 2, Feb. for wildlife habitat. improve environmental quality. 1997. 2 “How AFT Created Its 2002 Farming on the Edge Map,” Connection, Vol. With nearly 1 billion acres of land in farms, HERITAGE AND COMMUNITY V, Issue 4, Fall 2002 (Northampton, CHARACTER Mass.: AFT). agriculture is America’s dominant land use. 3 U.S. Department of Housing and So it is not surprising that farming has a sig- Urban Development, State of the To many people, the most compelling reasons Cities 2000, Fourth Annual, June nificant ecological impact. Ever since the 2000, online at for saving farmland are local and personal, and www.hud.gov/library/bookshelf18/pre publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, ssrel/socrpt.pdf. much of the political support for farmland pro- environmentalists have called attention to the 4 Ralph E. Heimlich and William D. tection is driven by grassroots community Anderson, Development at the Urban negative impacts of industrial agricultural Fringe and Beyond: Impacts on efforts. Sometimes the most important qualities Agriculture and Rural Land, practices. However, converting farmland to Agricultural Economic Report No. are the hardest to quantify—such as local her- 803 (Washington, D.C.: USDA ERS, development has detrimental long-term itage and sense of place. Farm and ranch land 2001), 14. impacts on environmental quality. 5 Kathryn Lipton, William Edmondson maintain scenic, cultural and historic land- and Alden Manchester, The Food and Fiber System: Contributing to U.S. scapes. Their managed open spaces provide Water pollution from urban development is and World Economies, Agricultural beautiful views and opportunities for hunting Information Bulletin No. 742, July well documented. Development increases 1998 (Washington, D.C.: USDA and fishing, horseback riding, skiing, dirt-bik- ERS). pollution of rivers and streams, as well as the 6 U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical ing and other recreational activities. Farms and risk of flooding. Paved roads and roofs col- Abstract of the United States 2001 ranches create identifiable and unique commu- (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department lect and pass storm water directly into drains of Commerce), 535. nity character and add to the quality of life. 7 United Nations Population Division, instead of filtering it naturally through the The World at Six Billion, 3. Perhaps it is for these reasons that the contin- soil.12 Septic systems for low-density subdivi- 8 Heimlich and Anderson, ibid. gent valuation studies typically find that people 9 Julia Freedgood, Cost of Community sions can add untreated wastes to surface Services Studies: Making the Case for are willing to pay to protect agricultural land Conservation (Northampton, Mass.: water and groundwater—potentially yielding AFT, 2002). from development. Deb Brighton, Community Choices: higher nutrient loads than livestock opera- 10 Thinking Through Land tions.13 Development often produces more Conservation, Development, and Finally, farming is an integral part of our her- Property Taxes in Massachusetts sediment and heavy metal contamination (Boston, Mass.: The Trust for Public itage and our identity as a people. American Land, 1999). than farming does and increases pollutants— democracy is rooted in an agricultural past and 11 New Research on Population, such as road salt, oil leaks from automobiles Suburban Sprawl and Smart Growth, founded on the principle that all people can online at www.sierraclub.org/sprawl. and runoff from lawn chemicals—that lead 12 Real Estate Research Corporation, own property and earn a living from the land. The Costs of Sprawl: Environmental to groundwater contamination.14 It also The ongoing relationship with the agricultural and Economic Costs of Alternative decreases recharge of aquifers, lowers drink- Development Patterns at the Urban landscape connects Americans to history and Fringe (Washington, D.C.: U.S. ing-water quality and reduces biodiversity in Government Printing Office, 1974); to the natural world. Our land is our legacy, Heimlich and Anderson, ibid.; Robert streams. both as we look back to the past and as we W. Burchell, Impact Assessment of New Jersey Interim State consider what we have of value to pass on to Development and Redevelopment Urban development is a significant cause of Plan, Report II (Trenton: N.J.: Office future generations. wetland loss.15 Between 1992 and 1997, NRI of State Planning, 1992). 13 R.J. Perkins, “Septic Tanks, Lot Size showed that development was responsible for and Pollution of Water Table Public awareness of the multiple benefits of Aquifers,” Journal of Environmental 49 percent of the total loss. Increased use of Health 46 (6), 1984. working lands has led to greater community automobiles leads to traffic congestion and 14 A.J. Gold et al, “Nitrate-Nitrogen appreciation of the importance of keeping land Losses to Ground Water from Rural air pollution. Development fragments and and Suburban Land Uses,” Journal of open for fiscal, economic and environmental Soil and Water Conservation. March- often destroys wildlife habitat, and fragmen- April 1990; Results of the reasons. As a result, people increasingly are tation is considered a principal threat to Nationwide Urban Runoff Program, challenging the perspective that new develop- Volume I - Final Report (Washington, biodiversity.16 D.C.: U.S. Environmental Protection ment is necessarily the most desirable use of Agency, 1983). agricultural land—especially in rural communi- 15 Heimlich and Anderson, ibid.; The Keeping land available for agriculture while Costs of Sprawl, Maine State ties and communities undergoing transition Planning Office, 1997. improving farm management practices offers 16 Heimlich and Anderson, ibid.; G. from rural to suburban. Macintosh, ed., Preserving the greatest potential to produce or regain Communities and Corridors environmental and social benefits while mini- (Washington, D.C.: Defenders of Wildlife, 1989); R.F. Noss and A.Y. mizing negative impacts. From wetland Cooperrider. Saving Nature’s Legacy (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, management to on-farm composting for 1994). 3 American Farmland Trust works to stop the loss of productive farmland and promote farming practices that lead to a healthy environment.

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