Is Farmland Preservation Worthwhile?

Preserving farmland has always been a major issue in the U.S. But as Bill Fulton discusses, the local economic results don't quite justify the efforts.
October 12, 2008, 7am PDT | Nate Berg
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"The longtime farmers say they're losing money. Even the organic farmers, who are making money, fear that proximity to urban development - and the complaints that arise - will drive them out of business. The farmland is worth far, far more for development than for farming. So why save it? Is there an economic development purpose to farmland preservation?"

"This debate is being played out in counties all across America. As an economic development strategy, agriculture usually looks like a loser. It consumes enormous amounts of land, which is far more valuable in the marketplace if it is used for something else. It employs few people, often on a seasonal basis and at very low wages. And it creates low value-added products."

"Still, farmland preservation is a strong state or local policy in many locations. The arguments in favor are almost never economic in nature. Rather, local residents often favor farmland protection over subdivision development because they think it will reduce traffic and maintain their community's traditional lifestyle even though they often complain about the noise and smells from farm operations. Environmentalists argue that organic farming can be economically successful because of farmers' markets and community-supported agriculture, a new trend in which local residents contract with local farmers for food."

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Published on Wednesday, October 1, 2008 in Governing
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