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Farming On The Fringe – for Feb. 12, 2009

American Farmland Trust (AFT) has partnered with Dick Esseks and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to release a report regarding the long-term viability of agriculture in counties that are becoming increasingly urban. The report, titled Farm Viability in Urbanizing Areas, explores which public policy efforts have been effective in retaining the spectrum of benefits provided by local agriculture.

“As agricultural counties transition to more urban land uses, it becomes increasingly important to plan for agriculture,” says Anita Zurbrugg, assistant director, AFT’s Center for Agriculture in the Environment, and one of the project researchers for the study. Zurbrugg adds, “This report utilizes case studies to exemplify the obstacles in the way of agriculture, and what planning tools are available to overcome them.”

The report is comprised of 15 county level case studies from 14 different states. Some of the key findings and recommendations to emerge from the report include:

Farmers were more likely to be positive about agriculture’s future in their county, if they regarded local government as sympathetic, or at least even handed in resolving conflicts between farmers and non-farmers.

State governments should enable, and local authorities should operate, effective programs for purchasing development rights to farmland, thereby, either adding to the base that agricultural zoning supports, or, achieving what zoning fails to realize.

Local governments should apply zoning policies (e. g., large minimum-lot requirements, cluster zoning, urban growth boundaries) that help to preserve an adequate land base for farming.

There are often insurmountable obstacles to young or beginning farmers purchasing and renting land, especially if they are not related to the current farm owners. Public and private agencies should encourage farm families to plan carefully for the transfer of ownership and management to their children or other relatives.

Public and private agencies should encourage the launching and sustainability of farm enterprises likely to be profitable on the urban edge and on small acreages – such as high-value specialty crops or livestock.

Farms closest to our cities, and often directly in the path of development, produce much of our fresh food -63 per cent (U. S.) of our dairy products and 86 per cent of fruits and vegetables.

Well-managed farm and ranchlands provide food and cover for wildlife, help control flooding, protect wetlands and watersheds, and maintain air quality. “Without local farmland there is no local food, and we’ve compromised a community’s capacity to improve its environment and quality of life,” says Zurbrugg.

“If we can better understand how to maintain a sufficient land base, to promote adequate marketing outlets and supplies of non-land inputs (credit, new farmers, hand labour, water, repair services, etc.), and to encourage types of farm enterprises likely to be profitable given market demand and input constraints, farming on the urban edge is likely to remain viable into the future,” concludes Dick Esseks, researcher and lead author of the report.

The research findings are available online at:

American Farmland Trust is a national non-profit organization working with communities

and individuals to protect the land, plan for agriculture and keep the land healthy.

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