Who can implement this: County and city officials, governmental organizations, and advocacy organizations
Utah County and its cities, working with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, should determine the value of agricultural lands by analyzing and comparing the attributes of farmable lands. This process, combined with community feedback, would help officials identify the most promising farmlands in the county and determine which lands should be preserved. In order to establish a meaningful valuation of agricultural lands in Utah County, data needs to be gathered to better understand where different types of crops grow best and where there is potential for farm expansion on underutilized land. Spatially identifying these critical lands is an important step in helping policymakers make decisions about preservation.
If land is determined to have of a comparatively high agricultural value, steps can be taken to prioritize its preservation for farming over other uses like single family housing.
Identifying and prioritizing agricultural land for preservation includes the following steps:
- Involving the community in a countywide area mapping exercise to help determine which agriculture lands may qualify for preservation based on factors such as: where crops are currently being grown, soil quality, water availability, slope, soil drainage, soil permeability, ecology, micro climates and other environmental factors.
- Collecting and studying soil samples from farmlands for factors such as salinity, fertility, and more. The U.S. Department of Agriculture keeps current records of the soil quality across the state, rated on a 5-point scale. This USDA grading could be used to determine which soils in Utah County should be best protected, though additional testing could help confirm their findings.
- Analyzing onsite water availability, including both the quantity and quality of water resources.
- Interviewing local farmers to determine the growing history, cultural value, and other important factors of farmlands.
Local governments should use Land Evaluation and Site Assessment (LESA) Systems to help determine where prime agricultural lands exist in their communities. Creating an effective LESA System can be a lengthy process, but they can be crucial in understanding which agricultural lands should be prioritized and targeted for preservation.
Sacramento Area Council of Governments analyzed their region with help from the University of California, Davis, and created different scenarios for the future of agriculture. Those scenarios provided the council with data that helped them understand what types of growth would best preserve key agricultural lands.
Most places that have attempted to prioritize the preservation of farmland have created systems in conjunction with funded preservation activities. In 2000, Michigan passed the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, which created the Michigan Agricultural Preservation Fund. The fund provides state matching dollars to local governments for the purchase of development rights from qualified farmland. The fund requires local governments to use a scoring system to rank parcels of land under application in terms of priority for preservation.