Urban Sprawl Threatens Farmland

Pressured by extreme weather and political gridlock in Congress, the biggest threat to farms may not be a stalled Farm Bill, but urban sprawl and urban development. Over the past several generations, the percentage of Americans living in rural areas has declined. Despite available farm loans and government support to encourage more young people to enter the agricultural profession, the number of farmers continues to shrink. This population decline leaves many farmers’ prime cropland vulnerable to urban development. Despite actions by state and federal governments, including offering low-interest farm loans to farmers and purchasing easements to guarantee valuable farmland will not be developed, many government programs designed to protect cropland are falling by the wayside.
Several state agriculture departments currently manage farmland preservation programs. The mechanisms for farmland protection tends to vary, ranging from direct farm loans to buying land from farmers in order to prevent urban development. A Delaware protection program, for example, attempts to encourage young people to buy cropland currently for sale by offering them low-interest farm loans solely for buying farmland. Other programs, such as New Jersey’s Farmland Preservation Program, tend to rely on purchasing easements and forbidding urban development on valuable land. Whatever the mechanisms, state farmland preservation programs have been largely successful, with farm loans and easement creation preserving hundreds of thousands of acres of valuable agricultural land across the country.
Many of these programs, however, are increasingly under threat due to faltering state economies and out of control state budgets. In Utah, for example, farm loans and grants offered through the LeRay McAlister Fund have helped stop the hemorrhaging of valuable state farmland. According to Utah Governor Gary Herbert, however, without additional money, the state cannot continue to add to the fund. This potential loss of farm loans and farm grants is particularly devastating given the combination of a struggling state economy and the expansion of major highway projects across valuable farmland. Given the economic climate, some farmers may be tempted to sell their land and retire. With funding for farm loans dwindling on a state level, many farmers are looking to Congress and the 2012 Farm Bill to provide solutions to current agricultural woes.