When you look at the potential loss of farmland in Wisconsin, it’s the equivalent of losing 2400 farms, the potential of losing 6400 jobs associated with agriculture in the state and a loss of potentially $377 million in farm output. Wisconsin is on two top twelve lists that aren’t necessarily good to be on.
Cris Coffin, Director of National Agricultural Land Network and American Farmland Trust Senior Policy Advisor, shares more on their report related to farmland conversion and what this means for the future.
Wisconsin is listed as the twelfth state in the country in terms of total acres likely to be converted by 2024, from farmland to residential or commercial use. It also ranks seventh in terms of the best quality land expected to be converted.
“What this means is that the farmers and citizens of Wisconsin need to pay attention to this report, because it’s a warning sign about the future, not just the farmland in the state, but what that means for the agricultural industry as a whole,” says Coffin.
The American Farmland Trust report included farms under threat by the year 2040. They used high resolution spatial analysis tools to identify where agricultural land has been converted, and where it is likely to be converted into the future. Per these projections, the Midwest as a whole could lose over 3 million acres to development by the year 2040.
“In Wisconsin it’s a lot of low density residential development, that is fueling quite a bit of likely conversion going forward,” adds Coffin. “What we hope that this report does is shed light on the fact that this is a concern for the state and to point out those counties that are particularly at risk, and to suggest ways that the state and communities can address this law.”
Causes of conversion that Coffin notes are land being converted as cities and towns, scattered large lot residential development sprouting up in rural and suburban areas, and the expanding solar development that is happening around the state.
“There are a lot of recommendations in our farms under threat 2040 report to help reduce the footprint of residential and commercial development on productive farmland,” says Coffin. “We need to grow smarter and think more about compact development, how can we contain more development in the already existing urban and suburban areas, and continue to grow.”
American Farmland Trust also encourages being focused on protecting the best farmland. That can be done both by permanently protecting the best of the best farmland as well as thinking about land use planning and zoning that will protect those resources.
If farmers can’t make a living, they are more likely to sell their land or look to lease it for solar and Coffin explains that people need to be focused on the profitability of the industry as a whole. Additionally a focus needs to be on the future generations due to the aging population of American farmers.
Coffin adds, “Just thinking about profitability in agriculture isn’t enough to necessarily save the land base. For many farmers who are land rich and cash poor, their land is their equity. When we think about permanent farmland protection and those tools that can help to transfer land to a next generation, it can help to reinvest some of the proceeds from that sale back into the viability of the farm, or allow the farm to expand.”
It is to understand the potential impact of this continued loss. Many may think that this growth is an issue that is just in urban areas. One of the takeaways from this report is that everyone has a vested interest in understanding how urban areas can be made to be thriving, vibrant, equitable communities. This helps those in the rural areas as they want to try and grow compactly while avoiding development on the very best farmland.