Ohioans need a much greater sense of urgency in Columbus and Washington about farmland preservation. If we don’t act now in a big way to protect prime agricultural soils, we’re going to leave our children and grandchildren an Earth in desolation.
Experts on farmland preservation calculate that we must protect permanently another 50 million acres of family farms and agricultural soils by 2050 to feed the U.S. population sustainably. Ohio needs to place another million acres of agricultural soils under perpetual land conservation easements in the next 37 years — that’s 27,000 acres a year
According to the American Farmland Trust, a national farmland preservation organization, most of Ohio’s prime agricultural soils lie north and west of a line running from Cincinnati to Ashtabula. To do our fair share, northwest Ohio needs to protect 10,000 acres every year here in the former Great Black Swamp, which has yielded some of the richest, most productive agricultural soils in the world.
Our regional land trust, the Black Swamp Conservancy, is doing an excellent job of protecting our family farms. But with the resources available to it, the conservancy can protect only about 1,000 acres a year.
Still, we have the people and programs to meet the audacious goals of preserving 10,000 acres of farmland each year in northwest Ohio, and 27,000 acres statewide. Ohio’s U.S. senators, Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, are committed supporters of the agriculture industry. It’s especially helpful that Senator Brown sits on the Agriculture Committee.
U.S. Reps. Bob Latta of Bowling Green and Marcy Kaptur of Toledo are annual cosponsors of legislation that would make enhanced federal tax incentives for land conservation permanent. Congress has yet to pass the bill.
In Columbus, many state lawmakers of both parties from northwest Ohio would be expected to vote to renew the Clean Ohio program, our state’s hugely popular and successful land conservation program, which includes farmland preservation.
Most important, leaders in both the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the Ohio office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service have demonstrated their commitment to farmland protection. Ohio is second in the nation in the amount of federal funding it receives for farmland preservation.
What needs to happen now? Northwest Ohio’s legislative delegation must provide bipartisan support for continued funding of Clean Ohio in the next two-year state budget, at $52 million. Naysayers can’t be allowed to get in the way, if Ohio’s $100 billion agriculture and food industry is to benefit.
Senators Brown and Portman and Representatives Latta and Kaptur must go back to Washington and help pass legislation that would make enhanced federal income tax incentives for conservation easement donations permanent. President Obama needs to be all in on the issue of farmland preservation.
And Gov. John Kasich needs to create a strategic planning process that would streamline and integrate Ohio’s effective but cumbersome state and federal farmland preservation programs. I’d bet that generous family foundations around the state — and especially, philanthropic folks in the Toledo region — would be pleased to help finance this initiative.
Farmland preservation is one of our most important national-security issues. Let’s get to work.
Kevin E. Joyce is an attorney, management consultant, and conservationist in Sylvania.