Prime farmland is like money and fame: Everyone seems to want it. Farmers crave the flat, rich land for its potential to
raise huge crops, and developers prize the terrain because it’s cheap to build on.
However, a new Indiana University study questions decades of converting farmland to housing and businesses, and urges tighter
restrictions on development. Check out the study, conducted by the Indiana Business Research Center in the Kelley School of
Business, is here.
The percentage of Indiana acreage used for agriculture has plunged from nearly 85 percent in 1950 to just 64 percent by 2007.
Most of the land lost was classified as prime, and much of it was in the Indianapolis area. It doesn’t take a researcher
to predict the trend line in coming decades.
Study author Tanya Hall says local governments should consider research showing that tax revenue from prime farmland is a
better financial deal than the costs of extending water, sewer and other infrastructure.
“If we continue to go at the rate we are, we are going to lose a lot of prime farmland,” Hall says. “We
need to consider the value agriculture brings to an area.”
In reality, prime farmland has few preservationist friends. As prices rise, farmers sell off pieces and then entire farms,
all while complaining about the increasing traffic. They then often plow the big checks into less-expensive farmland farther
from the sprawl they help create—without paying capital gains taxes on the profit.
Hall says tighter zoning restrictions could help contain the sprawl to roughly the current suburban and exurban footprint—possibly
anathema to farmer and developer alike.
Where to you come down on the highest and best use for farmland?