August 18, 2013

Farm landscapes change with time

In recent years, there have been many reports on the loss of farm land in the United States. No one, at least in the agricultural community, likes to see productive farm land converted to subdivisions or shopping mall parking lots. 

Because many of the features of good farm land are also favorable to development, when farm property near populated areas comes up for sale, it is often unaffordable for local farmers. Near more urban areas, land values of $10,000 per acre or more make expansion by existing producers nearly impossible. Clinton County is a little bit different when it comes to farm land.

A hundred years ago, just about every nook and cranny in Clinton County was growing an agricultural crop. Have you ever gone on a hike and wondered why someone built a stone wall in the middle of the woods? At one time, our region was full of small farms growing potatoes, raising sheep, milking a few cows and making a living off the land. As people left these small farms for an easier life in the city, the farms were reclaimed by brush and later, full-grown woods.

What we have been seeing lately in Clinton County is an increase in tillable land due to land clearing. While it can be disconcerting to see hundreds of acres of trees being removed and crops being planted, rest assured that it is being done with oversight and regulation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) as well as the County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Before a farmer can begin to clear a tract of land, the NRCS must make a determination that there are no existing wetlands or highly erodible lands that will be affected. Any activity involving land clearing, drainage systems, land leveling or filling requires an evaluation by the NRCS. Not being in compliance with conservation regulations also puts farmers at risk of being ineligible for USDA programs.

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