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Why farmland preservation is important:
Our farmland is in jeopardy.
Farmers supply the food we eat and many products we use daily. As our population grows, there is increasing pressure to convert farmland for other land uses. While Oregon’s Land Use Planning System has helped with farmland preservation compared to many other states, urban expansion and development of rural residential properties has led to the loss of thousands of acres of agricultural land in rapidly growing Washington County. Once this land is converted to non-farm use, it will likely never return to farm production.
While farmland loss is a concern across the country, the loss of agricultural land in Washington County is happening much faster than in other areas. In only five years, 23% of our farmland was converted to other uses (Source: 2017 U.S. Ag Census, National Agricultural Statistics Service).
Why is our farmland decreasing?
Farmland is being lost in our county and across the country for a variety of reasons:
- Many farmers are reaching retirement age
The average age of farmers in Oregon is over 60 years old. We can expect that over 60% of working farmlands in the state will change hands in the next 20 years as these farmers retire.
- Few farms have succession plans or conservation easements in place
Over 80% of farmers may not have a plan in place to pass on their farms. Without a plan for succession or an easement to keep the land in farm use, families can experience emotional strife, economic challenges, and pressure to sell their land.Learn About Succession Plans and Easements
- Farmlands are vulnerable to development
Farmlands that are not protected by easements or succession plans are often sold to developers and converted to non-farm use. They may be divided into multiple parcels, making them even more vulnerable to development – and too small to support profitable farms in the future.
- Many challenges exist for beginning and young farmers
Starting a farming business is no easy task. Challenges include limited access to affordable land, high start-up costs, and limited opportunities for gaining farming experience. New farmers are not entering the field as quickly as current farmers are aging out of it.
- As farmland decreases, so do the essential businesses that support agricultural production
Farm-related businesses include tractor dealers, feed stores, processing plants, and farmers markets. Without these businesses in the county, farmers would have a harder time purchasing supplies and selling their products locally.
Strategy & action:
How can we preserve farmland?
Preserving agricultural land is a collaborative effort between farmers, local governments, and community groups. Strategies for farmland preservation include:
- Establish agricultural conservation easements
A working land easement is a voluntary legal agreement that ensures farmland will remain in farming, even as ownership or zoning changes. This allows the landowner to continue to own and manage their property in a productive way while generating income by selling or donating development rights. These agreements can provide financial incentives to the landowner, such as tax benefits or cash payments.
We can help: Tualatin SWCD can hold agricultural conservation easements to protect farmland from future non-farm uses. This helps make farmland affordable for the next generation of farmers.Learn about our agricultural conservation easements
- Create succession plans
Many farmers hope to pass their farms on to the next generation of farmers. Unfortunately, without a plan in place for managing the farm, farmlands may be divided or sold off for financial purposes or due to the complicated details of estate transfers.
Creating a succession plan can protect income by minimizing taxes and fees related to estate transfers. It also provides time for experienced generations to mentor younger farmers. A plan for passing down the farm can provide both financial and emotional security for retiring farmers. These plans benefit the community by helping preserve the diversity of the local food supply and maintaining the agriculture economy.Learn more about succession plans and how to create one
- Support new farmers
Farmers who are just starting out face many challenges, especially when trying to access appropriate and affordable farming land. The costs for starting a farm are high – farmers must purchase land, buy equipment, and pay for labor. Young farmers are more likely to have an off-farm job, limiting the hours they can spend developing skills and building their farm business.
These challenges can be even greater for Black, Indigenous, immigrant, and refugee communities. Individuals in these groups face institutional barriers to farming, such as difficulties qualifying for loans, navigating regulations, or accessing land in an inheritance-dominated system.
Several programs exist to help new farmers get established:
- Adelante Mujeres provides aspiring and existing Latino immigrant farmers with training for sustainable production.
- Oregon Farm Link connects new farmers with current landholders and experienced business partners.
- Incubator farm programs, like the one offered by East Multnomah SWCD, can help new farmers gain vital experience before purchasing their own land.
To get involved or learn more about farmland preservation, reach out to our dedicated staff.