In the Pacific Northwest our most productive, versatile, and resilient soils are limited – and irreplaceable
Farming and ranching are key to the Pacific Northwest’s communities, economy, and way of life. Farms and ranches are such a familiar part of the landscape that it’s easy to take them for granted and assume they will always be here. But AFT’s newly released, “Farms Under Threat: The State of the States” tells a different story.
“Farms Under Threat” shows that the future of agriculture in the Pacific Northwest is significantly threatened by the conversion of our farmland and ranchland.
“Farms Under Threat: The State of the States” shows the extent, location, and quality of each state’s agricultural land and tracks how much agricultural land has been converted in each state using the newest data and the most cutting-edge methods. It also analyzes the six most widespread farmland protection programs and policies, ranking state performance with the Agricultural Land Protection Scorecard. The report and its associated interactive website are breakthrough tools for analyzing state efforts to make sure farmland is available to produce food, provide essential environmental services and help mitigate and buffer the impacts of climate change.
The research also details an alarming new threat: a land use category that has never been mapped before, which AFT is calling Low-Density Residential Development, or LDR. Farmland in areas with significant LDR are much more likely to be lost. In Idaho, agricultural land that was in LDR areas in 2001 was 122 times more likely to be developed by 2016. Washington state and Oregon saw similar trends with agricultural land in LDR being 70 times and 95 times, respectively, more likely to be developed by 2016.
The report demonstrates some clear wins in Oregon and Washington state. In comparison to other states, the overall threat to Oregon and Washington’s farmland is relatively low, and both states’ policy responses have been strong. This is thanks – at least in part – to strong land-use planning programs, and to the hard work of land trusts and other conservation organizations over the last several decades.
That said, our work in the Pacific Northwest is far from finished. Development is still threatening our most productive farmland. Between 2001 and 2016:
- Washington lost 97,827 acres of farmland – an area nearly twice the size of Seattle. While this loss represents just a fraction of Washington’s total agricultural acreage, 31% of the land lost is considered “nationally significant land,” or land best suited for food production.
- Oregon lost 65,767 acres of farmland – an area roughly twice the size of Salem, and 31% of the land lost is considered “nationally significant land.”
- Idaho lost 68,823 acres of farmland – an area larger than the city of Boise, and 26% of the land lost is considered “nationally significant land.”
The overall threat of farmland loss in the Pacific Northwest is deceptively low. While our agricultural lands are plentiful, our most productive, versatile, and resilient soils are limited – and irreplaceable. The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of regionally diverse and resilient farm economies. Washington, Oregon, and Idaho must act now to permanently secure their most productive, versatile, and resilient farmland. To achieve this goal, state and local governments must work in partnership with local communities to develop a comprehensive set of policies and programs that address not just land protection, but also farm viability and the transfer of land to the next generation.