New farm bill could slow development.

By Lesley Brown Garland

Land suitable for development could be in even shorter supply if a new measure to keep farmers from selling their acreage succeeds. In an effort to slow urban sprawl and preserve rural land, farmers and environmentalists are joining forces to support proposed farm legislation that would offer so-called "green payments" to farmers.

While the country's current farm bill doesn't expire until September, Congress is considering legislation that would offer $250 million in new subsidies to farmers who manage their lands in ways to protect the environment. Sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), the Agriculture, Conservation, and Rural Enhancement Act would pay farmers to keep their land out of developers' hands.

If the program passes, the bill would provide subsidies to farmers in more states--including California, the nation's largest agriculture state, which receives only 2 cents of subsidies for every $1 of farm goods produced. With the conservation payments, legislators could spread subsidies to other kinds of agriculture, including tree farming and livestock ranching.

According to Ralph Grossi, president of The American Farmland Trust, the bill is the best hope for protecting the environment. Grossi, whose nonprofit farmland preservation group is based in Washington, D.C., says preventing sprawling development will maintain the amount of food produced as well as protect against water pollution and wildlife destruction.

Home on the Range

Year # of Farms # of Acres

Avg. # of Acres

1997 1,911,859 931,795,255 487
1992 1,925,300 945,531,506 491
1987 2,067,759 964,470,625 462
1982 2,240,976 966,796,579 440

Farm future: In the 1997 Census of Agriculture, most of the farms in the United States were owned by individuals or families and were between 50 acres and 179 acres.

BIG BUILDER Magazine, February 2002