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Economy Proved To Be Ally For Ohio Farmland Preservation Efforts

During the housing boom, subdivisions replaced soybeans and corn in many Central Ohio farm fields. Farmland preservation efforts grew as farmers fought against sprawl. Well, a lot has changed. Now agriculture is more profitable than housing. And as WOSU reports, farmers at the Ohio Farmland Preservation Summit have had to change course. "Someone's going to own that ground, and I'd just as soon see a farmer own it than a developer," Joe Young told a dozen or so farmers and agricultural industry experts. The small group discusses the issues surrounding farmland preservation. Over the course of an hour, they delve into topics like how to run a preservation program and how to fundraise. And they talk about the future of farming. Ohio farming – the top industry in Ohio – was in jeopardy about a decade ago as suburban sprawl moved further and further out from the city and into the country. Developers bought up farmland and built subdivisions, shopping malls and office buildings. In response, the state ag department formed the Office of Farmland Preservation. Then the economy proved to be its biggest ally. The housing boom went bust; many suburban expansions stalled. Developers were left with a loss. At the same time, agriculture exports grew and farmers who did not sell to developers saw corn and soybean prices rise and their profits increase. No longer are they looking to sell their land to make ends meet. Instead, Denise Franz King, who directs the Ohio Office of Farmland Preservation, said, "we have some instances where farmers are actually purchasing land back from developers." "There was a real concern about the loss of farm acreage to development," she said. "In today's economy that is less of a concern." Don Kosier, who runs a farm in Wayne County, agreed. "You hate to wish ill will on other parts of the economy. But in reality, yeah, no doubt about it, the housing downturn has been a huge boon for farmland preservation." But as farmers are well aware, conditions change. Fairfield County farmer Joe Young said while the threat to farmland is not as great as it once was, he's still looking ahead. "If we would see the grain price, commodity prices drop like happened in the early 1980s, it's a whole different world again," Young said. "So I still think it's very important while we have this opportunity as farmers to be able to maybe purchase some property. That we get this ground protected." Since the state began efforts to preserve farmland, 313 Ohio farms have been permanently conserved. That totals 54,143 acres. But Ohio Agriculture Department director David Daniels said that's not enough. Daniels said the department will turn to the local level for help. "They can do a better job identifying what land needs to be preserved, what land is appropriate for [agriculture] easement purchases, what land is appropriate to be donated," Daniels said. "Hopefully this is going to help our local land trust, local land partners, better fund themselves so they can keep going." Farmland Preservation Office director Denise Franz King also is looking to local urban planners for help. Franz King added as more people re-think how and where they live, agriculture will benefit. "Consumers are looking more for housing opportunities that are in town. And maybe that will help with curbing some of the development of green fields that has occurred in the past," she said. The state's agricultural department continues to push its program that provides funding to farmers and communities for land preservation purchases.