What’s at stake when we pave over, fragment and otherwise fail to protect Idaho’s farmland from the disruptions of development?
American Farmland Trust’s new report demonstrates how developing farmland puts food security, the environment and our way of life in jeopardy.
5/20/2020, WASHINGTON, DC — Millions of acres of America’s agricultural land were developed or converted to uses that threaten farming between 2001 and 2016, according to “Farms Under Threat: The State of the States,” a new report by American Farmland Trust. The report’s Agricultural Land Protection Scorecard is the first-ever state-by-state analysis of policies that respond to the development threats to farmland and ranchland, showing that every state can, and must, do more to protect their irreplaceable agricultural resources.
“The State of the States” report shows the extent, location, and quality of each state’s agricultural land and tracks how much of it has been converted in each state using the newest data and the most cutting-edge methods. The Agricultural Land Protection Scorecard analyzes six programs and policies that are key to securing a sufficient and suitable base of agricultural land in each state and highlights states’ efforts to retain agricultural land for future generations. It offers a breakthrough tool for accelerating state efforts to make sure farmland is available to produce food, support jobs and the economy, provide essential environmental services, and help mitigate and buffer the impacts of climate change.
Idaho’s Best Lands and Its Agricultural Identity are Under Threat
Agriculture is key to Idaho’s communities, economy and way of life. Agricultural land accounts for 26% of Idaho’s total land area. With over 24,000 active farms and ranches, agriculture contributes over $7 billion to Idaho’s economy each year.
In Idaho, expansion of cities, suburbs and exurbs threatens land best suited for growing our food. The report shows that, between 2001 and 2016, Idaho lost nearly 70,000 acres of farmland – an area larger than the city of Boise. While this loss represents just a fraction of Idaho’s total agricultural acreage – only .5% – development has disproportionately impacted Idaho’s “Nationally Significant” land, or land best suited for growing food. Of the farmland lost between 2001 and 2016, 26% was considered “Nationally Significant.”
Idaho’s hotspots for farmland loss and fragmentation are in areas near urban centers and surrounded by prime farmland, places like Rathdrum Prairie and the Treasure and Magic Valleys.
Idaho’s agricultural land is also threatened by a new, more insidious threat, Low Density Residential, or LDR, land use. It’s insidious because it is not always immediately visible to communities and policy makers, and therefore has yet to provoke a policy response.
We all recognize urban sprawl, but low-density residential development is a big problem in Idaho. LDR refers to large–lot development popping up in and around agricultural fields. In Idaho, land in LDR areas was 122 times more likely to be converted to urban high-density land use than other agricultural land.
LDR land use compromises opportunities for farming and ranching, making it difficult for farmers to get into their fields or travel between fields. New residents not used to living next to agricultural operations often complain about farm equipment on roads or odors related to farming. Retailers such as grain and equipment dealers, on which farmers rely, are often pushed out. Farmers can be tempted to sell out for financial reasons, or because farming just becomes too hard in the circumstances. And lastly–but importantly–as older farmers near retirement they sell their properties, too often to non-farmers. This means that new and beginning farmers have a hard time finding land, threatening the very future of agriculture. More often than not, the land prices in these areas have been driven up by the encroaching development making it impossible for new farmers to afford to buy a farm.
“Farms Under Threat” is a call to action. The growing demand on agriculture in the U.S. will require regionally diverse and resilient farm economies. At the same time, farmers are aging. In Idaho, there are currently more than 3 times as many farmers over the age of 65 than under the age of 35. Idaho needs to permanently secure its most productive, versatile and resilient farmland. To achieve this goal, communities must come together to develop comprehensive, and locally appropriate, policies and programs that address land protection, farm viability and the transfer of land to the next generation.
“Idahoans take great pride in their identity as an agricultural state, and communities are just beginning to see what’s happening in places like the Treasure Valley and Magic Valleys,” said Addie Candib, AFT’s Pacific Northwest regional director. “Rapid population growth – Boise is one of the fastest growing cities in the nation – is driving the loss and fragmentation of farmland, threatening not just Idaho’s ability to grow food, but its way of life.”
To sign up for a Farms Under Threat webinar about Idaho, click here
For a brief summary of national results and connections with climate change, food security and the economy: National Media Release
American Farmland Trust is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through our No Farms, No Food message. Since our founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 6.5 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally-sound farming practices on millions of additional acres and supported thousands of farm families.