The USDA recently released the 2014 Tenure, Ownership, and Transition of Agricultural Land (TOTAL) survey and Southern Farm Press has a good summary. Highlights include the news that 11% of farmland in the West will transition in the next five years and that it is difficult for new farmers to gain access to this land.
From the article:
“Access to land is one of the biggest challenges facing agricultural producers, particularly beginning farmers,” said Mary Bohman, ERS Administrator. “TOTAL gives us a chance to demonstrate the extent of the land access issue and provide realistic projections of future land availability for purchase or for rent.”
As our communities grow in the arid regions of the West, cities are in the market for water rights to fuel this growth. Often these cities turn to farms to purchase water rights leading to the circumstance known as “buy-and-dry”, as described in this recent public radio story from Northern Colorado.
Poudre Valley Community Farms’ mission includes keeping water rights intact on our properties. As much as farmers need stable, long-term access to farmland – they will also need water to produce food for our communities.
Here on Colorado’s Front Range, development is the primary pressure driving up land prices and challenging our young farmers who desire to work here. However, development isn’t the only challenge faced by food farms seeking affordable access to land. Investors speculating on a return from rising land prices are purchasing farmland in the U.S. and around the world at an increasing rate. While a handful of these investment companies, such as Iroquois Valley Farms and Farmland LP, prioritize the sustainability of the farm and the food it produces over immediate profits – though they are still making good returns – most of these investment companies seek profit at the expense of the farmer and our food. The article Buying the Farm provides a great overview of these investment pressures and the alternatives offered by the more progressive investment firms.
Poudre Valley Community Farms offers a model for community ownership of farmland – through the power of cooperative member-ownership – that allows those of us who are not accredited investors to play a role in preserving access for the farmers and ranchers of our local food economy.
He’s [Harold Wilkens and son – farmers] not talking about profit; the Wilkens, father and son, are making money. He’s talking about time and the condition of the soil, environmental impacts, and the quality of the food he provides to human beings. Harold needs an investor that will put him on land he’ll never have to leave, and not force him to “mine” it—his term—for the sake of predictable profits.
The Coloradoan recently covered the explosion of new housing development in Northern Colorado on lands formerly used for farming. This article tells the story of the development pressures that will make farmland increasingly hard to find and afford for farmers and ranchers wanting to be a part of our local food economy. From the story:
Ronald Ruff (former rancher) has watched farms in southeast Fort Collins switch from growing hay and corn to a new, more lucrative crop.
Read more of the New York Times Op-Ed that outlines some of the issues that community-owned farmland could help to resolve.
From the Op-Ed:
We need to put more young people on smaller farms, the kinds that will grow nourishing food for people instead of food that sickens us or yields products intended for animals or cars.