Board Expresses Strong Support for Protecting Farmland

Development pressure on nursery operation (Photo by Steve Dodrill, OSU EESC)

Development pressure on nursery operation

The District’s Board of Directors expressed their strong support for protecting farmland in a letter delivered to Clackamas County Commissioners on June 29, 2016. The content of the letter is shown below.

Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District is a special district organized under ORS 568 with the same legal boundaries as Clackamas County. Governed by a seven-member board of locally elected officials, the District provides non-regulatory technical and financial assistance to landowners so that natural resources will be available to use today and for future generations.

Making sure that high-value farmland and the productive soils on those farms are conserved are core issues important to many soil and water conservation districts, including Clackamas SWCD. While the District has been quiet on most issues, the potential loss of farmland compels us to speak up.

The District believes the County’s current initiative to create employment lands may not adequately consider the long-term value of high-value farmland. A significant amount of the land proposed for reconsideration as employment land is high-value farmland, an irreplaceable natural resource.

The current initiative also does not seem to fit with the Clackamas County Strategic Plan dated September 18, 2014 that speaks to preserving important natural resources with a strategic priority that says: “Honor, utilize, promote, and invest in our natural resources.”

It is important to note that agricultural operations provide economic benefit to Clackamas County, to the State of Oregon, and to the United States. Clackamas County is perennially ranked in the top five Oregon counties in terms of the total value of agricultural products sold. The County ranks first in the state in production of Christmas trees, egg production, and sales of equines, and second in the production of nursery products, fruits, tree nuts, and berries. Farmland, especially high-value farmland, should not be looked upon as vacant land awaiting development.

According to the Census of Agriculture, Clackamas County lost 16,983 acres of farmland between 1997 and 2012. This is a 9.45% loss for our county, compare to a 6.5% loss statewide. The loss of farmland has accelerated in recent years, especially in Clackamas County. In the last five-year Census survey period, 2007 to 2012, Clackamas County lost 20,076 acres, nearly an 11% loss. Overall, Oregon still lost farmland, but at a much decreased rate of 0.6%. The continued loss of farmland is not, we believe, in the best interest of the people who live, work, and play in Clackamas County.

While Oregon boasts some of the most protective land use laws in the nation, the sad truth is that these laws fail to adequately protect our best farmland from conversion to urban and non-farm uses. As a matter of general policy, the District opposes the conversion of high-value farmland when less productive land is available for non-farm uses.

Considering the highest and best use of land must also include the long-term value of generations of future farm production and the impacts on the character and economics of our local communities. The remarkable character of Clackamas County will be lost if we cannot assure the long-term coexistence of agriculture, population growth, and development. The only way to accomplish this is to protect farmland and to focus non-farm land uses on land less suitable for farming.

To assure that the significant economic impact provided by local farms is not forever lost, Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District believes the County must:

  • Focus future urban growth and non-farm land uses on lands less suitable for farming.
  • Make the long-term preservation of our best farm soils and farmland a priority by providing for the permanent preservation of high value soils.

We look forward to hearing more discussion about the important role filled by our farms and farmers as the County considers how to accommodate growth in other parts of the local economy.

The letter was signed by all seven of the District’s directors.

More data on farmland loss is available through the United States Department of Agriculture Census of Agriculture.

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