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WAYNE COUNTY NEWS: Group discusses farmland threats


Concerned farmers and agriculture community members gathered recently to voice their concerns and offer solutions to halt the loss of farmland.

WOOSTER  Wayne County Commissioners and more than two dozen members of the Agricultural Success Group gathered recently at the Administration Building in Wooster to discuss the future of local farmland.

Fielding questions was Julia Freedgood from the American Farmland Trust (AFT) in Washington, DC., according to information provided from the Office of the Board of Commissioners.

“I don’t have a Ouija board or anything to tell the future of farming in America, but there are two competing forces here,” Freedgood said in the news release. “One is that agriculture is becoming increasingly concentrated and consolidated. Bigger and bigger farms are commanding more of the wealth in agriculture. On the other side, there is a huge demand for differentiated agriculture.”

Freedgood explained that 90 percent of farms are considered small to medium-sized. With the price of farmland at an all-time high, farmers have an economic incentive to sell their land — especially if the next generation isn’t interested in taking over the operation.

“When farmland becomes this expensive, it has a two-sided effect on agriculture,” she said. “It is tough to expand an existing farm, and it is tempting to sell out because you can make so much money.”

According to ATF statistics, between 2001 and 2016, 11 million acres of farmland were converted to urban use. While there is no silver bullet solution to protecting agricultural resources, the AFT recommends the following actions:

* Analyze and map agricultural land trends and conditions.

* Adopt a suite of coordinated policies to protect farmland.

* Support farm viability and access to land for future generations.

* Plan for agriculture, not around it.

* Save the best (land), but don’t forget the rest.

Freedgood said that Wayne County farmland is 81 percent nationally significant — best suited to long-term, intensive crop production.
“When I tell others that Wayne County has some of the best farmland in the nation, this is what I am referring to,” said County Commissioner Sue Smail. “We need to consider agriculture’s economic impact on the county.”
According to the AFT, in Wayne County:

* Agriculture accounts for 21 percent of the county economy or $1.2 billion.

* Agricultural-related industries employ 9,242 people or 15 percent of the workforce.

* There is a labor income of $580 million, or 20 percent of the total.

* There are 3,700 farmers on more than 2000 farms.

Wayne County is also number one in the state for the market value of dairy and third for the total value of agricultural programs sold.

“As you can see, these numbers are significant and contribute in a major way to Wayne County’s overall economy,” Smail continued. “The Ag Success Team intends to use the information provided by Ms. Freedgood and the American Farmland Trust to create action plans moving forward.  It is inherent upon us to protect this land.”

While many factors affect the loss of farmland, the economic climate has a significant impact.

“It is very challenging to tell a farmer who is being offered three or four million dollars for their land to keep living off of your Social Security check because we need farmland,” said Frank Becker of the Ohio State University Extension Office. “Once that farmland is gone, we won’t get that back; it is gone forever. I don’t know how to drive that point home to people outside of the agricultural community. They aren’t making new farmland.”

Becker said the situation is in its eleventh hour and community awareness needs to be raised before it is too late.

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