The importance of Agriculture
This week is haying week on our farm. We go to the hay fields and bring back a winter’s worth of hay to fill the old, gray barn. This is a golden time, when the weather is finally nice enough for the grass to be ripe and the bales to be dry. While there is always much moaning and groaning about the difficulty of the work, the heat, and the way the bits of hay find their way into every bit of clothing, the satisfaction of a job well done and security of knowing that our animals will be well fed all winter is worth every minute of it.
We are fortunate to live in a farming community, where open spaces are preserved, and hard work is a valued commodity. Farmland is important, not just for its aesthetic qualities, but also because it is critical to our nation’s food security. During the COVID-19 crisis, many of us have experienced empty shelves in the grocery store. We have discovered that even in this land of bounty, our sources of food are at risk.
We can no longer take our food and our farms for granted. Our farmland is constantly under threat from developers who want to turn a large profit by converting farms to housing developments. They may offer subdivisions with plenty of space as a way to preserve more land, but such developments are often converted to more dense housing that pushes farmers out of adjacent properties. Between 2001 and 2016, eleven million acres of agricultural land in the United States were lost to development. In the Puget Sound area, 60% of the farmland disappeared from 1930 to 2013. To slow this decline, farmland preservation programs have been put in place in Puget Sound, and have proven effective , but wider implementation of such programs is needed throughout the state.
Some of the more successful policies are grant programs for purchasing development rights, so that farmers can retain ownership of the land while farming. There are also programs in which developers in urban areas may be allowed to build apartment complexes of extra density if they pay for the development rights of farmland, which remains in the farmer’s hands. Comprehensive land use planning on a statewide basis is essential, rather than piecemeal by county, to help prevent further agricultural land losses.
Another problem with America’s farmland is the aging population of farmers. It is very difficult to get young people to start farming due to high initial costs and the inherent riskiness of farming. Farmers should be given tax breaks when selling farms to the next generation of farmers. Furthermore, if young farmers are given beginning farmer tax credits, grants, and incentives to get them on their feet, it will help keep agricultural land in use for years to come.
The conversion of agricultural land to housing development also presents a threat to our planet, as the effects of carbon production on global climate change are felt everywhere. Bedroom communities popping up farther and farther from the cities mean extended commutes for the people living there. Longer commutes contribute greatly to carbon pollution from cars. Though farms can be a source of pollution, mitigation practices may be employed. Tillage reduction, the growing of cover crops, planting perennials, and better grazing management, could result in reductions in overall carbon production for agricultural land. While working in the hay fields this year, I could see large, mansion style homes that had sprung up here and there around the farmer’s fields. I felt a deep sense of loss – not just for the beauty of the land, but for a way of life so intrinsic to the American people. It is time to stop the encroachment of the cities into our farmland so that we may maintain the security of our food sources and the integrity of the American spirit.