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Losing Ground: Strengthening Farmland Protection in the Puget Sound Region

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Each of the county-by-county assessments has recommendations for improving that county’s farmland protection program. Looking at all the counties, certain actions stand out as recommendations for farmland protection across Puget Sound as a whole. These actions are summarized below.

Farm sign with farmland and sprawl in background

Include all viable farmland in agricultural zones.

Well-constructed agricultural zoning is the most important element of a successful farmland protection program. Zoning should protect farming from interference from other uses, ensure that farmers have the ability to expand and modify their businesses based on market changes, and hold property values down to the point where new and expanding farmers can buy land.

Rows of crops on Washington farm

Improve the protections provided within agricultural zones by increasing minimum lot sizes and narrowing allowable uses.

Small lots inhibit agricultural protection and make farmland attractive for rural estates. Agricultural zoning should limit division of parcels into lots too small to effectively farm and should limit uses on farmland to those associated with agricultural production.

Red barn in front of housing developmeng

Purchase (or otherwise secure) development rights for critical farmland parcels and blocks.

Just five percent of Puget Sound’s farmland is currently protected by purchase of development rights (PDR). Funding for PDR should be significantly expanded to permanently protect critical farm parcels in the region.

Apple trees with snow

Provide property tax relief to all qualifying farmland.

In the simplest of the recommendations to execute, counties should utilize Washington’s Current Use Assessment statute and provide property tax relief to farmers by allowing them to pay taxes on their land’s agricultural value, rather than the value of its “highest and best use.”

Two farmers selling fruit at a farmers market

Provide economic and regulatory assistance to farmers.

It’s not enough to protect farmland; it’s also vital to ensure that new farmers can get into business and existing farmers can stay in business. Counties should continue providing economic and regulatory assistance to farmers to help them remain competitive and profitable.

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American Farmland Trust