Ashtabula County, OH Soil And Water Conservation District Farmland Preservation Executive Summary
Status: Adopted on 12/19/00
[A portion of the] Summary:
Farmland Preservation Executive Summary
Why Is Farmland Preservation Important in Ashtabula County?
Agriculture plays a vital role in Ashtabula County. In total, the agricultural industry generates nearly 50 million dollars of gross cash receipts yearly. Over 22% of the county is described as prime farmland. The county has a total acreage of 455,100 acres with 189,510 acres (42%) enrolled in the "Current Agricultural Use Valuation" program and 116,958 acres (26%) enrolled in agricultural districts. The most recent agricultural census indicates the number of farms in Ashtabula County to be 1,090 with the average farm containing 166 acres. A net loss of land in farms of approximately 15,000 acres has resulted since 1980.
Ashtabula County's agricultural industry should be recognized for its contribution to the local and regional economy. Dairy production, cattle, and grain commodities have been and continue to be the major source of agriculture economic strength. Vineyards, nurseries, tree farms, orchards and other specialty agricultural production add to that strength. The unique microclimate produced by Lake Erie provides the ability for orchard and vineyard crops to be produced and flourish in the northern section of the county. From this specialty agricultural production, the local economy has benefited through increased tourism due to festivals and special events held at wineries and farm markets.
The types of agriculture and the traditional practices utilized by agriculture in the county are changing. The continual increase in development occurring outside of the municipal and village jurisdictions has had and will continue to have a negative impact on traditional agriculture while offering opportunities for direct marketing, value-added agriculture such as fruits, vegetables, vineyards, nursery plants and tree farms in adjacent urban areas if these areas can be maintained as agricultural lands.
Private and public sector cooperation will be needed to curb activities that negatively impact agriculture in the county to ensure farming remains a viable economic activity. Just as important as remaining economically viable, the rights of the agriculture sector and individuals who chose to establish residences and/or commercial enterprises in a predominantly agricultural area must be balanced.
Areas of agricultural activity that currently exist on prime farmland, are viable due to microclimates or are concentrated in a certain geographical area, should be considered for protection. No single program or tool may achieve farmland protection goals in the county. A protection program should be in accord with the desires of the community and its landowners, the status of farming in the area, and a clear strategy on which land to preserve and how to do so. Farmland preservation should be focused not simply on saving land from development, but ensuring that agriculture is a profitable venture that enhances the local economic base.
Last, farmland preservation is a long-term process. It may take years of careful planning, public and private investment, and most of all landowner support to be successful. Several Cost of Community Services studies (American Farmland Trust�s report for Lake County, Ohio) have been completed recently. The conclusions reached indicate the conversion of active farmland into residential development places a financial burden on a community. Growth needs to occur carefully, taking into consideration the impacts on property taxes, schools, safety forces, roads and other infrastructure. Growth management, however, does involve costs. Regulations and other land use controls must be compatible with the business of farming as well.
Agriculture within the county is coming under increased pressure as residential development expands, land values increase, infrastructure is expanded and urban/rural conflicts arise. The concerns surrounding farmland preservation, wildlife habitat preservation, quality of life, open and green space preservation, history, heritage, residential and commercial development, protecting unique and natural resource areas are all related. The time to begin to look for solutions to these challenges is perhaps now.
Farmland Preservation-A State and National Concern
According to the 1992 U.S. Census of Agriculture, the United States encompasses nearly 2.3 billion acres of land. Of this total, about 940 million acres is held by farmers, with roughly 360 million acres in cropland. While land is a finite resource, America certainly is not faced with the problem of depleting its overall land base for development. However, while the quantity of available land is apparently not an issue, the quality of it may be. Prime farmland reflects about 243 million acres or somewhat less than one-third of all agricultural land. Because prime farmland is typically level to gently sloping, well drained, and not as prone to erosion, it often becomes a target for conversion to development.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated that about 2 million acres of productive farmland throughout the country are converted annually to non-agricultural uses. The ongoing loss of agricultural land is a matter of increasing concern in the state of Ohio. With about 26 million acres, Ohio is one of only five states with more than 45 percent of its land base classified as prime or unique farmland. However, as previously noted, prime farmland may also be attractive for development purposes. Between 1982 and 1992, according to the American Farmland Trust, 472,000 acres of land were
developed in Ohio, of which 59% (or 281,000 acres) was classified as prime or unique farmland. During the period of 1960 to 1990 the population in the state of Ohio grew by 13%, whereas the overall land area needed to accommodate this growth increased by 64%. This is nearly double the national average (Rusk, 1993). For the greater Cleveland region, the trends are even more significant. By the year 2010 the region is expected to lose 3% of its population, while residential development may occupy 30% more land area.
The American Farmland Trust (AFT) has documented the threat to agriculture on the Northeast Ohio region. The AFT ranked the Eastern Ohio Till Plain, which includes Northeast Ohio and Ashtabula County, number 7 in the top 20 most threatened areas for farmland conversion in the United States. Between 1982 and 1992, 57% of the land developed in the Eastern Ohio Till Plain region was classified as prime or unique agricultural land, representing 66,000 acres. According to the Ohio Department of Development, from 1990 to 1994, 23% of the farmland in the Cleveland-Akron metropolitan area was lost.