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The Planet

Keeping Farmers Farming

The Planet, April 1997, Volume 4, number 3

By Brett Hulsey, Midwest Regional Representative

Citizens in Peninsula Township in Michigan's rural northwest recently voted to pay farmers to keep farming and not subdivide their land. The township near Traverse City was growing quickly, destroying farmland and the unique rural character of the area. Town residents ran the numbers and found that it would be cheaper to buy the rights to leave the farmland undeveloped and steer building toward town than to provide services like water, schools, police, fire and other critical government functions to an expanding township. Voters passed a levy of $1.25 per $1,000 of property value for 15 years to buy the right to develop farmland from willing farmers. Interested sellers are lining up.

Such a plan has distinct benefits in combatting sprawl and preserving community character:

  • It keeps farmers, many of whom are approaching retirement, farming. This measure pays farmers not to sell out to developers.
  • It provides a retirement fund for farmers. Rather than sell their land in order to retire, farmers can keep farming and take their payment over a number of years.
  • It makes lenders happy. If needed, payments are made directly to the bank to pay off the land.
  • Farmers can afford to buy more land and expand. This is especially good for young farmers who can now afford to get into farming since land prices aren't driven up by development pressures. Money stays in the county and helps the local economy.
  • It lowers farmers' taxes. The value of the land remains at farming value for property and estate tax purposes.

The Traverse City plan is popular. Recent polls show 71 percent of local residents think it's a good program and a full 98 percent like the town the way it is and want to keep it that way. Here in Madison, Wis., we've already collaborated with a Dane County official to pass a similar referendum governing the purchase of local land development rights. The key is to work with farmers to conserve the land, focusing on the fast-growing areas where the development pressure is highest, and to make sure that thereีs an overall planning scheme to prevent leapfrogging over already-protected farm areas.

http://www.sierraclub.org/planet/199704/farms.asp


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