Note: I served as the primary author/editor of this special report for the Land Trust Alliance on the economic benefits of the USDA Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP). The report captures the economic effects of federal agricultural protection funding within communities, featuring four case studies with analysis and data from economic analysts Jessica Sargent and Daniel Stephens of the Trust for Public Land.
“The Power of Leveraging Local and Federal Dollars to Strengthen Agricultural Land Easement Investments” was published by the Land Trust Alliance in 2012. Case studies are from Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota and Wyoming. Here’s an overview of the case studies:
Keeping the Heart of a Michigan Industry Pumping
Slice into a cherry pie and there’s a good chance the filling came from Michigan, the country’s top tart cherry state. The majority of Michigan’s cherries grow in the northwest corner of the state’s Lower Peninsula, thanks to hills, well-drained soils and seasonal temperatures moderated by Lake Michigan. Food processors have developed alongside the orchards, producing dried fruit and fillings, jams, juices and packaged fresh apple slices for stores and restaurants. These businesses keep the pulse of the fruit suppliers they rely on. They report that locally led, FRPP-assisted conservation easement efforts are providing capital for farmers to invest in rejuvenating and expanding orchards and vineyards, as well as helping transition farms from one generation to the next.
Giving Wyoming’s Ranches a Working Chance
Wyoming is poised for a large shift in land ownership. The vast majority of the state’s private land is ranchland, and most ranch operators are at or near retirement age. The cost of some of the most productive lands has soared beyond the reach of agricultural buyers. As ranchlands are fragmented for development or bought as an amenity, stock growers are concerned about how to pass working ranches to the next generation. Ranches are the heart of Wyoming’s agricultural industry and culture, and rangeland expanses provide critical wildlife habitat. In these areas, conservation easements offer retiring ranchers an alternative to selling their land for development and consequently, there has been a high demand for conservation easements assisted through FRPP. But matching funding sources necessary to work in concert with FRPP are limited, and time is of the essence.
Growing “Fruitlands Forever” in Colorado
Palisade, Colorado, is one of the top fruit-producing towns in the nation and a key attraction for Mesa County’s growing tourism industry. Palisade peaches are renowned throughout Colorado and beyond, and vineyards and wineries draw tourists year-round. Through agricultural easement purchases, Mesa Land Trust and FRPP are helping Palisade landowners permanently dedicate land to farming while providing them with capital to improve and expand their farm operations. With a base of protected agricultural lands in the community, even farmers without agricultural easements are feeling more confident in making long-term investments in their orchards and vineyards.
Ensuring the Future of Farming in One Minnesota County
To the southeast of Minneapolis-St. Paul and bordered by the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers, 586-square-mile Dakota County is graced with a complex economic mosaic including information technology, aerospace, insurance and transportation businesses—from Fortune 500 companies to startups. This Minnesota county is also committed to keeping farming a part of its economic mix. It was the first in the state to develop a comprehensive farmland protection plan, and, in 2002, voters approved a $20 million bond to conserve farmland and natural areas. This funding, combined with FRPP funding, has permanently protected 5,312 acres of farmland as of 2012 and established 57 miles of stream and river buffers. The agriculture-friendly atmosphere appears to be paying off with gains in farm operations and a strong food-processing sector.