Again, turning farmland into commercial, residential, etc. property benefits whom?!

Cow_female_black_white[1]One would think, in America, based on ongoing conversation, significant strides have been made in the effort to save farmland from non-agriculture-related development.

Case in point. To quote Jeff Turrentine from his “Neighborhood Watch” article, “Sprawl destroys the defining character of suburbs by conferring upon them many problems associated with urban areas: crime, congestion, paved-over wilderness. And yet [“Burn Down the Suburbs?” author] Stanley Kurtz [and who has lectured at both the University of Chicago and Harvard] assails urban growth boundaries — which draw a literal line in the sand, then limit development beyond it — as a liberal scheme ‘to force suburban residents into densely packed cities.’ But if that’s true, why did the citizens of conservative Virginia Beach, Virginia, establish one back in 1979? The answer is that their ‘green line,’ which has restricted sprawl to the city’s northern half, has preserved the unique agricultural character of the southern half; as a result, today there are nearly 170 working farms within the city limits.”

To think that as far back as 1979 there was this concerted push to limit horizontal, outward sprawl and preserve agricultural acreage is quite insightful, in my view.

There should be no argument regarding the need for American farmland preservation. This goes without saying.

Meanwhile, Natural Resources Defense Council staffer Kaid Benfield in joining the conversation in “Suburban sprawl could destroy up to 34 million acres of forests, says new study,” notes, “In 2010, a study by the American Farmland Trust found that 41 million acres of rural land had been permanently lost in the preceding 25 years to highways, shopping malls, and other development. The rate of recent farmland lost at the time of AFT’s report was an astounding acre per minute.”

Moreover, even I did my own investigative reporting. In the March 2009 issue of Vegetable Growers News, I opened with this: “On Jan. 26 in Fresno, Calif., the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint – a land-use and transportation planning group for the valley – hosted a pivotal summit. Several key points were discussed: the valley’s smart growth policies, blueprint milestones, the review and selection of scenario recommendations, next steps, and agriculture and land impacts.”

Three paragraphs later I penned: “California agriculture, according to the blueprint, is a $31.6-billion-a-year industry, with the San Joaquin Valley’s share accounting for about half of that. This 50/50 balance may dramatically change in the years ahead if land that is utilized for agricultural purposes is converted for other uses.”1

So, why is this troubling?

To list but a few of the concerns, Benfield points out that, “Key themes from the findings include these:

  1. Land development will continue to threaten the integrity of natural ecosystems;
  2. Climate change will alter natural ecosystems and affect their ability to provide goods and services;
  3. Competition for goods and services from natural ecosystems will increase;
  4. Geographic variation will require regional and local strategies to address resource management issues.”

As it relates, being now that statewide high-speed rail is set to break ground sometime this coming summer, it is my understanding that for any agricultural land that is given up to high-speed train corridor use in both Madera and Merced counties, an equal amount of land elsewhere and to be purchased by the California High-Speed Rail Authority will be designated expressly for agricultural use.

What this says to me is that any farmland that is to be converted to high-speed rail transportation use will not be lost but instead be displaced, at least in those two counties, anyway. Such action could have implications for other types of farmland-encroaching development.

From where I sit, this move is an important one in the sense that further loss of farmland due to high-speed rail right-of-way conversion will be prevented in both Madera and Merced counties.

And as it has to do with benefits derived from the practice of building densely, in “Density is the key to having healthy neighborhoods,” an editorial published in the Contra Costa Times, Scott Watkins opined, “Direct benefits include residents saving money by being closely connected to services and community. Proximity to and close connections save money and time on travel, historically by car. Another direct benefit is an increased ability for residents to supplement income with adding rental units to existing property and small businesses having additional customers in a smaller regional area.

“Indirect improvements to residents and the neighborhood are connected to environmental improvements e.g., improved air quality with less driving to everyday needs and services.”



  1. Alan Kandel, “San Joaquin Valley deals with development,” Vegetable Growers News, Mar. 2009, pp. 9 & 17.

– Alan Kandel