What’s at stake when we pave over, fragment and otherwise fail to protect Ohio’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. 

The “Farms Under Threat State analysis finds that Ohio’s growing cities are being developed on some of the most productive agricultural land in the state. 

The Midwest region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin holds some of the richest, most productive agricultural lands in the country. These six states are part of the 12 Midwest states in the U.S. that each generate over $10 billion in agricultural cash receipts. From Wisconsin’s dairy industry to the Illinois’ and Iowa’s corn and soybean fields—all of the Midwest states hold invaluable assets to America’s agriculture. Yet these six states in particular are among the most threatened for conversion of agriculture land to non-agriculture uses.  

Ohio’s farms are under threat with its best land succumbing to development.  

From 2001-2016, 312,200 acres of agriculture land were developed or compromised – that’s over 20,000 acres annually. Using AFT’s PVR index, the measurement of productivity, versatility and resiliency of land, 72% of Ohio’s agriculture land is considered “Nationally Significant,” or land best suited for growing food and crops. 

“Without question, Ohio holds some of the most fertile soil in the nation,” said Brian Brandt, AFT’s director of aconservation innovations. “Discouragingly, 181,000 acres or 1.6% of Ohio’s nationally significant land has been developed or compromised. It is critical for the long-term resiliency and sustainability of agriculture in the state, yet our Farms Under Threat analysis clearly shows this land remains under threat.  

Agriculture is the state’s leading industry, contributing $124 billion annually to Ohio’s economy. Ohio has seen tremendous success in urban areas where creation of urban farming sectors are providing fresh fruits and vegetables to its low-income or limited resource population.  

The hot spots for development were the dramatic expansions around Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati. However, the threat is more than just urban sprawl. Ohio’s agricultural land is disproportionately threatened by a new, more insidious kind of development discovered by AFT through this research, termed low-density residential, or LDR, land use 

Roughly 71% of the state’s agricultural land is Nationally Significant land. LDR is insidious because it is not always immediately visible to communities and policy makers and therefore has yet to provoke a policy response. In Ohio, LDR is 12 times more likely to be converted to urban and highly developed land use than other agricultural land. 

LDR compromises opportunities for farming, making it difficult for farmers to get into their fields or travel between field, temptations to sell their farm for financial reasons, or nearing retirement and needing to find an opportunity to have their land be purchased from another farmer or a potential subdivision. Ultimately, this means that new and beginning farmers will not have the opportunity to take up farming on this land, making it challenging for our nation to maintain 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.  

There continues to be a high threat for conversion of agricultural land in Ohio. While the state scores relatively well in a few of the six policy categories identified for addressing that threat, Ohio scored among the top states for the conversion of agricultural land to urban and highly 

developed and low-density residential uses. One critical area is the demonstrated need for additional comprehensive land use planning policy. Another area that can be improved in Ohio is the development of FarmLink programs that can connect new or existing farmers with landowners who want their land to stay in agriculture. 

AFT has maintained a presence in the Midwest since just after its founding in 1980, and today our presence is greater than ever. In the Midwest, AFT focuses on promoting sound farming practices and developing new opportunities for work on climate change and protecting farmland. Midwestern farmers are facing new economic challenges, and efforts must be made to ensure farmers have access and technical assistance to implement sustainable agricultural practices.  

To sign up for a Farms Under Threat webinar about Illinois, click here. 

For a brief summary of national results and connections with climate change, food security and the economy:  National Media Release 

 

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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. 

About the Author
April Ann Opatik Murray

Midwest Communications Coordinator

aopatik@farmland.org

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