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Preserving prime farm ground: The other side of the argument

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In the fall, Douglas County's agricultural heritage is about as visible as any time of the year. Combines are in the fields, grain trucks are on the road, and farmers are harried and this year probably happy. But how much of a role should agriculture play in Douglas County's future? That question is getting some attention inside Lawrence City Hall. [On two occasions now,][1] city commissioners have debated how much protection the city's comprehensive plan should provide for land that is deemed "prime farm ground." Commissioners are planning on [discussing the issue again][2] at their Oct. 14 meeting. The issue specifically is whether future industrial parks should be allowed to locate on prime farm ground (think the Kansas River valley and other bottomland.)A proposed industrial park near the Lawrence Municipal Airport has brought out lots of folks who have said why industrial development shouldn't occur on prime farm ground. Their reasons include that the most highly rated farm ground - including ground near the Kansas River - is a rare and precious commodity. With higher fuel prices, they're convinced that it will be more important for communities to grow some of their own food locally. They've also argued that the prime farm ground serves as an excellent source for flood control, because the land really sucks up the water. But what we haven't heard a lot of in this debate is why this issue of protecting prime farm ground may be overblown. Local attorney Mark Andersen - who represents developers and others these days but comes from a long line of family farmers in Northeast Kansas - took a stab at it recently. He [sent a letter to city commissioners earlier this month][3] outlining some reasons to keep this issue in perspective.Here's some of his key points:¢ U.S. farmers produce so much food that a good deal of it is exported to other countries. "With our own national population trends leveling off, and average crop yields and agricultural productivity continuing to rise, there is no shortage of local food production now or in the foreseeable future," Andersen wrote. ¢ The U.S. produces so much food that it pays farmers not to farm some of their land. The federal government's Conservation Reserve Program pays landowners $1.9 billion per year to leave 34.7 million acres of farm ground unplanted and undeveloped. ¢ Kansas certainly doesn't have a shortage of available farm ground. Kansas has 3.1 million acres of farm ground enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program. That's the third highest total of acreage in the country. ¢ The evidence, Andersen says, doesn't suggest Douglas County is going to run out of prime farm ground anytime soon. According to federal soil maps, about 11 percent of all ground in the county is rated as prime farm ground. That equates to about 33,500 acres. So, what do you think? Is this prime farm land question a growing problem, or just growing out of proportion? [1]: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2008/sep..."/ [2]: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2008/sep... [3]: http://www2.ljworld.com/documents/2008/sep/26/mark_andersens_letter_city_commission/

Comments

shorttrees 6 years, 11 months ago

Mr. Mark Anderson obviously knows little about the CRP (conservation reserve program) or he would know that it consists quite largely of land that would erode, blow, or otherwise be bad for land conservation if farmed. Think Flint Hills-- anything farmed out there would be a good bet for CRP if not in pasture land. Most of the farmers I know put there poorest land into CRP, and any good land put into the program may very well be removed in the next few years due to grain demand and prices. Allowing some of the best and most fertile farm ground in the state to be developed only benefits a few people-- the farmer who gets a good price for the land, and the developers. Any talk of the CRP in the state is merely a diversionary tactic by someone who should know better. Obviously another one of those people who thinks Kansas ends at Salina.

TGar 6 years, 11 months ago

So, let's be honest here. The proposed industrial development is the Pine family farmland. Senator Roger Pine (who conveniently forgot that he moved to Leavenworth County in 1999, along with his wife, Sue, (I assume)). So when Mrs. Pine was a Planning Commissioner, was it illegal? I'm pretty sure that she sat on the planning commission after 1999 and I think that she actually got to vote on the expansion of the Urban Growth Area to include the property in question now. Could you look into this, Chad?

gccs14r 6 years, 11 months ago

Some points:1. The U.S. is a net food importer and has been for several years now. 2. A lot of our arable land is used to grow animal feed. 3. Modern farming is fuel, fertilizer, and water intensive. Both fuel and industrial fertilizer require crude oil. 4. We're running out of water. We may not need our farmland today, but we will need it. I wish we would keep the next thousand years in mind when making plans, rather than always concentrating on our immediate wants.

fandango12 6 years, 11 months ago

I vote growing out of proportion. Allowing the 11% to be developed means business growth which - God only knows - is much needed. Creation of jobs is not a bad thing. As for "running out of water", there are opposing views. I have read the "shrinkage" of our water supply - and I assume you write of Ogallala aquifer is actually a returning to its original state after the heavy rains of the 80s.That all said, there's plenty of land around here to farm and develope.

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