Submitted by Charles Francis and John Allen
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HIGHLIGHTS OF UPCOMING BOOK: UNDER THE BLADE
This is the fifth in a series of articles that highlight information in a
book titled Under the Blade: The Conversion of Agricultural Landscapes.
Information in this article is from a chapter by Lawrence Libby and Patrick
Stewart. Libby is Professor and C. William Swank Chair in Rural-Urban
Policy, Department of Agricultural Economics, The Ohio State University.
Stewart is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Arkansas
State University. Additional authors who contributed chapters in the book
are from universities around the country. The book is co-edited by Richard
Olson, University of Nebraska and Tom Lyson, Cornell University. For more
information, contact Richard Olson at the CSAS office, or e-mail him at
email@example.com. To order the book, see the Resources section of this
The Economics of Farmland Conversion
Cost of Services
Supporters of development often argue that an increase in the tax base is a
way to stabilize or even reduce property taxes. However, residential
development often costs more in municipal services than it produces in tax
Table 1. Estimated annual net revenue (taxes minus services) for residential
(per housing unit) and business (per 1,000 square feet) development, Monroe
County, PA (MCPC 1996).
Net Net Net Local
Type of municipal school county govt.
land use revenue dist rev revenue total
Single-family detached - $121 - $1,439 + $110 - $1,450
Attached or multifamily - $167 - $244 + $27 - $384
Office + $35 + $991 + $65 + $1,091
Factory + $38 + $411 + $3 + $452
Table 2. Ratios of revenues to service costs for different land uses in four
midwestern communities (AFT 1993, 1994).
City Residential Commercial and Industrial Farmland
Farmington, MN 1 : 1.02 1 : 0.79 1 : 0.77
Lake Elmo, MN 1 : 1.07 1 : 0.20 1 : 0.27
Independence, MN 1 : 1.03 1 : 0.19 1 : 0.47
Madison Township, OH 1 : 1.54 1 : 0.23 1 : 0.34
Conversion of farmland to development increases the need for roads, police,
waste disposal, and other municipal services. Particularly due to the cost
of education, residential development often pays less in taxes than it
requires in services. Commercial and industrial development more than pays
for its required services. Farmland, which requires very few services, also
provides a surplus of tax revenue to local government.
The total cost to a municipality of farmland development depends in part on
the final mix of land uses. Also, more expensive homes generate more
revenue. A study in Palm Beach County, Florida estimates that a new rural
home worth $750,000 will pay enough taxes to cover its services, while less
expensive homes add to the county tax burden (Engelhardt 1997).
Construction of 25,800 homes in the county's Agricultural Reserve would
cause an estimated $1.36 billion drain on taxpayers during 50 years, even
with developers paying for some of the roads and other infrastructure.
Competition for Land
Studies at the urban edge uniformly show a large difference between the
price that conventional farmers can afford to pay for land for agricultural
use, and the price that a developer can afford to offer. For example:
- A dryland corn/soybean farmer in Lancaster County, NE might realistically
pay $1,500 to $2,000 per acre for good farmland, while developers are paying
$10,000 to $25,000 per acre for land near the boundary of the city of Lincoln.
- Rocky Mountain ranchland, valued at $1,500 to $2,000 per animal unit (the
amount of rangeland required to support a cow-calf pair), sells for two to
ten times that amount for ranchette development.
- In southern Ventura County, CA, land acquisition costs must be below
$10,000 per acre for a citrus operation to produce a profit. Actual
acquisition prices near urban expansion areas are $25,000 to $35,000 per acre.
In some regions, intensive production of specialty vegetables or other niche
crops can gross $10,000 or more per acre and a farmer could potentially
outbid developers for small amounts of land. But given the low prices
received for most agricultural products, it is impossible for most types of
conventional agriculture to compete for land with residential or commercial
development in the absence of citizen actions to remove the economic
differential. For example, agricultural zoning or the purchase of
development rights help to maintain agriculture in areas facing development
pressure by removing development as a legal option, and proper estate
planning can enable the transfer of farmland between generations, denying
developers the opportunity to bid.
AFT. 1993. The Cost of Community Services in Madison Village and Township,
Lake County, Ohio. American Farmland Trust, Washington, D.C.
AFT. 1994. Farmland and the Tax Bill: The Cost of Community Services in
Three Minnesota Cities. American Farmland Trust, Washington, D.C.
Engelhardt, J. 1997. Palm Beach County relied on faulty figures for cost of
growth, experts say. The Palm Beach Post, November 19, p. 10A.
MCPC. 1996. Fiscal Alert. Monroe County Planning Commission, Stroudsburg, PA.
# # #
GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES ON BIOTECHNOLOGY (OR)
WHAT'S THIS FARM BOY DOING IN BRUSSELS?
Early last spring I received a call from Dr. Margaret Mellon asking if I
would be interested in attending a meeting on some of the issues surrounding
biotechnology to be held in Brussels, Belgium. It was scheduled for after
oat planting and before we got busy with corn planting, so I said yes,
tentatively. I wanted to get a little background on the people who were
sponsoring the meeting before I gave a firm commitment. My wife, Deb, got on
the Internet and found out about the Charles Leopold Mayer Foundation for
the Progress of Humankind. It seemed similar to the Keystone group here in
the U.S. in that it brings both sides of an issue to the table. I liked
that. The value of the meeting is not in the effort to draw some
conclusion(s), but in the dialogue that develops.
I thought – sounds like a group that truly wants to do some good, but why
ask me to attend? It seems they wanted some representation from the
scientific community (Dr. Mellon) and a "typical" grain and livestock farmer
from the Midwest.
I felt I could contribute to the discussion from the viewpoint of a
conventional farmer, sustainable farmer, and certified organic farmer, as I
had been operating as one of these over the past 20 years or so.
As a participant at this meeting, I was asked to present a short paper on
"Perspectives on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and Their
Relationships to Society and Agriculture." What a title! I've evidently been
spending too much of my free time rubbing elbows with academia. Briefly, the
areas I tried to cover were: innovation, research, patents, in the field,
agricultural system evolution, non-GMO products, and agribusiness
influences. Just the thing you want to dig into after a heavy noon lunch!
Well, I did my research (read, think, ask others) and was off to Brussels.
Upon arrival participants were given a document to sign that stated they
would not quote anyone's comments during the meeting. The Foundation wanted
to assure a free exchange of ideas and opinions. Lawyers, journalists,
environmentalists, scientists, farmers, public policy makers and
interpreters were in attendance. Signing this document meant that they did
not have to be concerned about their reputations, positions, or careers.
Believe you me, it worked! I didn't see anyone throw anything or see bulging
veins on people's foreheads, but the exchanges became quite lively at times.
Also, I sensed that some of the "opposing sides" found common ground at times.
I can speak in general terms about the topics that were discussed, which
included vertical integration and consolidation in the industry worldwide.
The ethical aspect of GMOs assumes that people must eat what is provided.
What happens to issues of choice?
The ramifications of "Terminator" technology was a hot topic, especially as
it related to developing nations. The technology of genetic engineering
places the company at a "greater distance" relationally from the farmer,
sometimes even in an adversarial role.
The narrowing of the germ plasm base and companies' unwillingness to share
their developments presents new obstacles to publically-funded research. The
legal and patent issues were discussed as well as how multinationals fit in
Transparency was a term the Europeans used for traceability, or in other
words – How do consumers know exactly what their food is and how it was
It was an interesting exchange, not only because it was simultaneously
interpreted in English and French, but also for the approach taken. I kept
thinking, "Maybe this is what comprehensive government is like. In the U.S.
we tend to make rules and laws and then try to deal with the mess we
created. This approach seems to deal with the messy stuff first in an effort
to make rules and laws that are not only fair but just.
Submitted by Tom Larson, farmer, St. Edward, NE
# # #
NCR SARE PRODUCER GRANTS AVAILABLE
The USDA's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program in
the North Central Region (NCR) invites producers to apply for competitive
grants to research, demonstrate or educate others about profitable,
environmentally sound, socially responsible agricultural systems.
A total of $250,000 is available for grants of up to $5,000 for individual
producers and up to $15,000 for groups of three or more producers
investigating any sustainable practice or concept. Additional funding
specifically earmarked for agroforestry projects is also available as a
result of a National Agroforestry Center initiative.
Past projects covered a variety of topics such as reducing off-farm inputs,
improving water quality, educating young people or consumers about
agriculture, managing weeds and pests, and creating viable markets for
Producers must reside in IL, IN, IA, KS, MI, MN, MO, NE, ND, OH, SD, WI.
Applications are due April 30, 1999. Funding decisions will be made in
late-June 1999. Funds will be available in mid-fall for the 2000 crop
production season. For application materials or questions, call the NCR SARE
office, 402-472-7081, fax 402-472-0280, or send e-mail to
firstname.lastname@example.org for an application, http://www.sare.org/ncrsare/.
# # #
Under the Blade: The Conversion of Agricultural Landscapes. $25. This new
(December 1998) book edited by Richard Olson (U. of Nebraska) and Thomas
Lyson (Cornell U.) examines the patterns, causes and consequences of current
land use decisions in the U.S. It examines farmland loss from several
perspectives, and then integrates the results into policy recommendations
(see related article in this newsletter). Westview Press, 5500 Central Ave.,
Boulder, CO 80301-2877, 303-444-3541. To order a $5 course examination copy,
America's Animal Factories: How States Fail to Prevent Pollution from
Livestock Waste, December 1998. $10 + $3 s&h. Includes state reports for 31
states, including Nebraska. NRDC Publications Department, 40 West 20th
Street, New York, NY 10011. Online at http://www.nrdc.org/nrdcpro/fppubl.html.
The National Library for the Environment Web site contains Congressional
Research Reports, http://www.cnie.org/nle/. Choose Agriculture for the topic
and you'll find, for example, recent reports on such topics as grazing fees
and rangeland management, animal waste management and the environment, and
changes in U.S. farm income.
New farmer direct marketing Web page for small and medium-sized producers,
ATTRA has 38 downloadable informational packets on the World Wide Web at
http://www.attra.org/topub.html. Topic areas are Fundamentals of Sustainable
Agriculture, Agronomy, Horticulture, Livestock, Pest Management, Soil and
Fertility, Marketing & Business, and Alternative Farming Systems. The latest
edition of the ATTRA Materials List that describes all of ATTRA's standard
materials is also available.
Considering a non-traditional livestock enterprise? Check out the Nebraska
Cooperative Extension Livestock Specialty Enterprises Web page containing
information and links on bison, goats, llamas, rabbits, ostriches and emus,
and aquaculture, http://www.ianr.unl.edu/ianr/lanco/ag/livestok/livespec.htm.
Community Food Security News. Varying rates. Quarterly newsletter promotes
comprehensive systems-oriented solutions to the nation's food and farming
problems. Community Food Security Coalition, PO Box 209, Venice, CA 90294,
Working Trees for Livestock. Free. Brochure describes specific ways your
land can benefit by putting trees to work for your livestock. This is only
one of many excellent publications available from the National Agroforestry
Center, USDA-FS/USDA-NRCS, East Campus - UNL, Lincoln, NE 68583-0822,
402-437-5178, ext. 11, http://www.unl.edu/nac.
Trouble on the Farm: Growing Up with Pesticides in Agricultural Communities.
$10.50 + $3 s&h. Natural Resources Defense Council report discusses how
children who live on or near agricultural land, or whose families work in
the fields, are "likely to be the most pesticide-exposed subgroup in the
United States." NRDC Publications Department, 40 West 20th St., New York,
# # #
Contact CSAS office for more information.
Feb. 27 – Annual Meeting of Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society,
Aurora, NE, http://www.netins.net/showcase/nsas/
Mar. 4-6 – Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference, Sinsinawa, WI
Mar. 8-10 – Annual Nebraska Water Conference, Kearney, NE
June 6-8 – National Agricultural Biotechnology Council Meeting – World Food
Security and Sustainability: The Impacts of Biotechnology and Industrial
Consolidation, Lincoln, NE
June 12-16 – 6th Conference on Agroforestry in North America: Sustainable
Land-Use Management for the 21st Century, Hot Springs, AR,
June 14-16 – XXVIII International Congress Work Sciences in Sustainable
Agriculture, Horsens, Denmark, http://www.sp.dk/~cgs/ciosta/
Oct. 12-15 – Second National Small Farm Conference: Building Partnerships
for the 21st Century, St. Louis, MO
Oct. 20-23 – North American Chapter Association for Farming Systems Research
and Extension (AFSR/E) Biennial Meeting – Sustaining Agriculture in the 21st
Century: Thinking "Outside the Box," Guelph, Ontario, CA,
http://www.oac.uoguelph.ca/FSR/ (abstracts due Apr. 1)
For additional events, see:
# # #
DID YOU KNOW?
On 11/30/98 the Organic Trade Association released a study containing
results of a survey of 56 food manufacturers who use organic ingredients.
The study showed that, on average, sales increased 36% from 1996 to 1997.
The OTA estimates the organic foods industry to have $4.2 billion in annual
sales, with $6.6 billion expected by the year 2000.
On 10/30/98 CGIAR (16 agricultural research institutes throughout the world)
issued a statement that they won't use "terminator" seeds.
Only 40% of grain farmers nationwide see themselves farming 5 years from now
according to a recent poll commissioned by Nebraska Farmers Union, the
Nebraska Wheat Growers Association, the National Farmers Union, and the
American Corn Growers Association.
USDA's 1998 updated farmers market directory lists 2,746 farmers markets
operating in the U.S., up from 2,410 in 1996 and 1,755 in 1994, when USDA
began collecting the data. That's a 56% increase in four years. For
information on these markets, see http://www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/.
A 12/28/98 article in the Omaha World Herald reported that researchers at
the University of Iowa recently found an unusually high rate of respiratory
problems among people who lived near a 4,000-sow hog confinement facility.
Studies in North Carolina, the Iowa study, and research in Minnesota all
have found cause for concern.
Land trusts and conservancies in the U.S. (now 1,213 of them actively
buying land and brokering "conservation easements" from private owners)
have preserved 5 million acres, more than twice the amount of just 10 years
ago, according to the Washington-based Land Trust Alliance. That doesn't
include 10 million acres preserved by the "nationals," organizations that
have long specialized in wildlife or farmland protection.
The Clinton administration proposed many environmental initiatives in
January. One is the use of tax credits to finance nearly $10 billion in
special "green bonds" that would be used to preserve open space, create
community parks and preserve farmland. The proposal, which envisions $700
million in tax credits over 5 years, is part of a $1 billion-a-year program
to promote "smart growth" strategies and stem suburban sprawl. The
initiative will be part of the fiscal 2000 budget Clinton will send to
Congress in February.
On 1/14/99 Glickman announced that certain meat and poultry products will be
allowed to carry a label indicating that they are certified organic. For
details see http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OA/news/pr_orglab.htm.
Pam Murray, Coordinator
Center for Grassland Studies and
Center for Sustainable Agricultural Systems
PO Box 830949
University of Nebraska
Lincoln, NE 68583-0949
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