1000 Friends of Oregon’s new report demonstrates the strength of Oregon’s statewide land use system in protecting farmland and identifies key factors putting farmland at risk.
Oregon’s unique statewide land use planning system continues to protect Oregon, including our state's 16 million acres of exclusive farm use (EFU) zoned land. Since implementation began almost 50 years ago, the system has slowed the annual loss of agricultural and range land by 60%.
However, urban expansion, rural rezoning, and nonfarm uses on farmland continue to take land out of farm use despite Oregon’s land use protections. Death by 1000 Cuts: A 10-Point Plan to Protect Oregon’s Farmland — 1000 Friend’s most-recent report — details the rise of nonfarm uses proliferating on EFU land and their cumulative impact. Nonfarm uses on farmland harm agriculture by creating land value inflation that prices out new and diverse farmers; numerous conflicts such as trespass, traffic, theft; and an overall breakdown of agricultural communities.
“The results are clear: Oregon’s land use planning program has protected millions of acres of farmland since its inception, but an ongoing obligation to preserve Oregon’s productive resource land remains,” according to Scott Hilgenberg, Rural Lands Legislative Attorney at 1000 Friends of Oregon. “The findings in our report detail nearly every nonfarm use allowed on Oregon’s farmland and the impacts they have for both neighboring farmers and agricultural communities throughout the state.”
Through interviews with farmers across Oregon and analysis of agency reporting, Death by 1000 Cuts: A 10-Point Plan to Protect Oregon’s Farmland outlines the problems Oregon farmers and ranchers face in the 21st century due to the proliferation of nonfarm uses and offers several realistic policy recommendations and research focus areas.
KEY POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS
ENFORCE LAND USE LAWS BY IMPROVING ACCESS TO AND FUNDING FOR LOCAL LAND USE ENGAGEMENT
Public engagement in land use planning leads to better local decision-making grounded in land use law. But requirements on paper are only meaningful if there is adequate enforcement. To achieve the intent of the land use program — including protection of farmland — local planning offices need adequate funding to provide both equitable public processes and enforcement services to remedy land use violations.
CLARIFY AND IMPROVE DEFINITIONS AND PERMIT REVIEW CRITERIA
Phrases like “home occupation,” “agritourism,” and “commercial activities in conjunction with farm use” are used in land use law but lack clear sideboards. This creates loopholes, imprecise standards for permit applications, and uncertainty for farmers and decision-makers alike. The legislature should revisit these phrases to establish clear definitions that specify what uses are allowed on farmland, and stop using phrases that create vague catch-all categories.
IMPROVE COUNTY REPORTING CAPABILITIES AND ACCESS TO PROPERTY-SPECIFIC DATA
By creating a broader and more uniform data reporting system, stakeholders and lawmakers can make better-informed decisions when evaluating changes to the land use system, including how farmland is regulated. Increased use of Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping can aid in the understanding of multiple layers of data and visually demonstrate how permitting decisions and natural conditions impact farmland. It is also a great tool to increase public participation
REQUIRE ALTERNATIVE SITING ANALYSIS FOR HIGH-IMPACT AND LAND-INTENSIVE NONFARM USES
De-paving farmland is near impossible, so a county’s evaluation of any proposal for nonfarm development on farmland must be scrutinized carefully. When intensive nonfarm uses are proposed, like an event center or a solid waste disposal site, applicants should be required to analyze other locations and fully explain why farmland is not just preferred, but best suited for the nonfarm use.
REQUIRE CUMULATIVE IMPACTS ANALYSIS FOR AREAS EXPERIENCING NONFARM DEVELOPMENT PRESSURE
Applicants need to be required to provide decision-makers with all relevant information about existing local nonfarm development — and how it currently affects farming — before making new land use decisions that create additional impacts. By requiring a cumulative impacts analysis under state or local law, the full threat to an agricultural community can be understood.
CONSIDER CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS AND THE USE OF WATER-CONSTRAINED AREA OVERLAYS
Climate change is affecting working lands around the globe. Farmers cannot pack up their fields when water is scarce, so the state and counties need to consider how current and projected water availability affects agricultural production. The use of a water-constrained overlay informed by water availability data can be a useful tool for counties to evaluate proposals for water-intensive nonfarm development on farmland
FUND WORKING LANDS EASEMENTS AND SUCCESSION PLANNING
Through the use of working lands easements, farmland owners can agree to keep their land in agricultural production and receive tax benefits that help the economic outlook for current and future farmers. If the legislature funds the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program, farmers could access matching federal Farm Bill money to fund working lands easements and succession planning.
REDIRECT FOOD, BEVERAGE, AND OTHER NONFARM RETAIL SERVICES AWAY FROM FARMLAND TO INSIDE TOWNS AND CITIES
Restaurants, breweries, and other nonfarm retail services are critical ingredients for a successful Main Street economy. When these activities are located on farmland, they can create conflicts for farmers and take business away from established towns and cities. Economic grants should incentivize nonfarm development within towns and cities. The legislature and counties should change the law to more appropriately limit the scope of these activities on farmland.
CONSIDER TOOLS OUTSIDE THE LAND USE SYSTEM, LIKE TAX POLICY
The Oregon land use system will continue to be vital for protecting farmland, but there are other tools with the potential to address some of the issues threatening the future of agriculture. One tool to consider is tax policy. Changes in tax law to disincentivize nonfarm development on farmland could reduce pressure to convert farmland.
SCALE BACK PROBLEMATIC NONFARM USES ON FARMLAND
The EFU zone is no longer exclusive, and that lack of exclusivity harms agricultural operations. Overall, the proliferation of nonfarm uses currently allowed under state and local law needs to be reined in to preserve Oregon’s agricultural economy.