No matter if you are a large farmer or a small farmer, organic or biotech, one thing you need to farm is land. This is becoming a serious issue in agriculture since no new farmland is being made and more and more existing land is being covered with concrete. Even some environmental groups are realizing the environmental impact the loss of farmland is having. Urban sprawl costs the American economy more than $1 trillion annually, according to a new study by the New Climate Economy. These costs include greater spending on infrastructure, public service delivery, and transportation.
I will admit to a bit of smug self-satisfaction that these big city environmentalists, who have been so outspoken about the environmental impact that farmers have, are now discovering that their urban and suburban lifestyles have a far bigger impact. Sprawl is also bad for your health according to the study, “Americans who live in sprawled neighborhoods are between two and five times more likely to be killed in car accidents and twice as likely to be overweight as those in more walkable neighborhoods.”
Another study, coincidentally released on the same day as the sprawl study, indicated that access to land was one of the biggest concerns of the next generation of farmers. Finding and securing adequate land to grow crops and raise animals was once again the top challenge identified in the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual outlook survey of participants in the Young Farmers & Ranchers program. That challenge was identified by 29 percent of respondents, followed by governmental regulations, which was identified by 13 percent of the respondents. “For young people who want to begin farming or ranching or expand an established farm or ranch, securing adequate land remains their top challenge,” said Jon Hegeman, AFBF’s national YF&R Committee chair and a farmer from Alabama. “Another major challenge is coping with burdensome government regulations.”
Ninety-one percent of respondents considered themselves lifetime farmers, while 97 percent would like to see their children follow in their footsteps. The informal survey reveals that 88 percent believe their children will be able to follow in their footsteps. But, this can only happen if they have access to land. Part of the issue is that farmland is disappearing due to sprawl or zoning issues. Another barrier is finances. The dramatic rise in land prices has presented a very significant barrier to young farmers. Then, there is the issue of the current generation turning over control of the land to the next generation. According to the Farm Bureau survey 10 percent of those who responded identified the willingness of parents to turn over the reins as a serious issue.
Farmland ownership and zoning issues are hot topics today. Hardly a week goes by without a seminar on farm succession planning, and hardly a week goes by without a dispute over local zoning involving farmland and farming operations. These issues are key to the future of individual farming operations and agriculture in general. Farmers, city planners, and environmentalists need to see farmland for what it is: a vital natural resource that must be protected, nurtured, and used sustainably. It is the bedrock of our food supply for tomorrow.
By Gary Truitt